Te Papa manager avoids assault conviction

NOEL JAMES OSBOURNE:  A conviction would "severely impact on his mana''.
NOEL JAMES OSBOURNE: A conviction would "severely impact on his mana''.

A Te Papa manager has escaped conviction for a "degrading" assault on his pregnant former partner after claiming it would hamper his international travel for the museum.

Noel James Osborne, 47, is a collections manager of Maori artefacts. In a video on Te Papa's website in which he presents the museum's collection of taiaha, he says he is a carver.

Women's Refuge chief executive Heather Henare said Osborne's discharge without conviction reeked of double standards. "Effectively what this says is it is OK if you happen to be in a privileged position."

Osborne, appearing in Wellington District Court yesterday, had previously pleaded guilty to common domestic assault.

Prosecutor Blair Piper described the attack as quite a degrading act. "It does have emotional ramifications beyond the physical. There's simply no excuse for taking that action against a woman who was pregnant."

But Osborne successfully argued that the effects of a conviction outweighed the gravity of the offending.

He had been drinking before visiting at his former partner's house in Otaki on April 16 when he held her down by her hair, rubbed water from the toilet in her face and told her to "eat shit", according to a police summary.

The struggle between them caused a door to hit their 2 1/2-year-old daughter in the face, causing a small nose bleed.

Osborne had been at the house to visit his daughter, but an argument began when he received text messages on his cellphone that his former partner believed were from another woman. The former partner, who was three months pregnant with their second child, took the phone from Osborne and dropped it in a toilet bowl during a struggle in which her arms were bruised. She sought advice from her midwife after the assault because she had abdominal pain.

Osborne's lawyer, Chris Pointer, said a conviction for domestic assault could prevent his client from entering some countries as part of his museum work. "This will have a ... severe effect on Mr Osborne's ability to do his job."

A conviction would also "severely impact on his mana".

Ms Henare rejected that, saying: "He lost his mana the day he did that. It's a complete disgrace and an appalling indictment on the court that they see this as acceptable behaviour. It sends a really inadequate message."

Te Papa refused to say whether Osborne had disclosed the police charge against him, what action it had taken or planned to take, and whether his position was still tenable.

It also refused to make chief executive Michael Houlihan available for an interview. An emailed response to Dominion Post questions said only: "Te Papa can confirm Mr Osborne is an employee and Te Papa will make no further comment."

Mr Pointer told the court Osborne was initially trying to retrieve his phone and "deeply" regretted later rubbing his hand in the woman's face after retrieving the phone.

The police summary said Osborne explained he had been drinking and had an alcohol problem. Police did not oppose the discharge without conviction, which Judge Bruce Davidson granted.

Osborne's former partner said last night that he was working on sorting out his drinking and she wished him well.

They were together for nine years. Osborne could not be contacted last night.

The Dominion Post