Top public servant acquitted of punching son

Last updated 05:00 25/05/2010

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A top public servant plans to return to his job after being acquitted of punching his teenage son in the head in his car two years ago.

A jury in Wellington District Court took three hours yesterday to find the man not guilty of assault after a week-long trial. The man's wife sobbed in court after the verdict was read out.

Judge Chris Harding permanently suppressed the man's name and occupation.

The man's lawyer, Mike Antunovic, asked for the suppression on the basis it would identify the teenager involved and cause damage to the man's 35-year career. The man, who had been suspended on full pay, planned to return to his job.

The Crown had charged the man with assaulting the 15-year-old boy by punching him in the head either in the back of a parked car in Cuba St or while taking the teenager to the car.

The teenager had run away from home, stolen his mother's and sister's cash cards, taken $700 from an account and bought a bag, cigarettes and a cellphone.

His father found him in Manners Mall on August 29, 2008, and dragged him back to the car, where witnesses said he punched the teenager several times in the head.

But the teenager told the court he had lied and exaggerated to get out of trouble he was in at school when he made the complaint of assault against his father.

The defence case was that witnesses saw the man taking the bag off his son during a struggle in the back of the car.

Judge Harding told the jury that if the witnesses were mistaken in their interpretation "there could be a serious miscarriage of justice, especially if the son now said he [the father] didn't do it".

Honest witnesses could be mistaken and their evidence could still be convincing, Judge Harding said.

He told the jury the law allowed for parental correction but there was no protection "if he loses his temper and lashes out".

The teenager could have had a motive for making a false statement and the jury needed to be critical and cautious in weighing up his evidence.

Judge Harding said the Crown claimed that the man punched his son in the back of the head during the forced march to the car or while they were in the back seat.

There was no dispute there was physical contact while the teenager resisted having the bag taken from him, but the jury had to decide if there was deliberate punching and if that was in the nature of parental correction.

The defence had said there were no punches and the man had taken firm action with an out-of-control 15-year-old.

The man had given evidence and said he was worried that his son, who was now diagnosed with severe attention deficit disorder, might run off and get into more trouble.

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The man declined to comment outside the court.

- The Dominion Post

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