Charge all hunters in fatal cases - coroner

NAOMI ARNOLD
Last updated 13:00 28/09/2012

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A coroner's call for tougher sentences for hunting deaths after the fatal shooting of Nelson-born woman Rosemary Ives has been welcomed by her uncle, who says guns have become an "accessory".

Miss Ives, 25, was a former Waimea College student. She was brushing her teeth at a Conservation Department campground south of Turangi during Labour Weekend 2010, when she was shot by Andrew Neville David Mears, who was illegally spotlighting from a utility vehicle with three friends.

Coroner Wallace Bain, who yesterday issued his findings into Miss Ives' death, said the shooting was a "tragedy that should never have happened".

"Rosemary Ives' death was needless, it was violent, and it was homicide."

He made a series of recommendations, including that all those involved in hunting deaths be charged with manslaughter, regardless of whether they fired the fatal shot.

Mr Mears pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served 11 months of a two-year jail sentence. He was ordered to pay $10,000 reparation, and destroy his rifle.

Mr Mears had a hunting permit but failed to follow basic hunting practices in order to positively identify his target beyond all doubt.

He fired the fatal shot from a 770.243 high-calibre rifle at Ms Ives' headlamp after a friend yelled he had seen a deer.

Mr Mears' three hunting colleagues were fined $2500 each.

Miss Ives' uncle, Hamish McFarlane, the brother of Miss Ives' mother, attended the inquest and said the coroner's findings "make sense".

"However you describe hunting, you're using a weapon that's lethal and that we've designed to be lethal, and it's very efficient. I can't think of any workplace where you'd be allowed to use a tool like that without having absolute knowledge that there was no-one else in the area."

He said society treated guns "casually".

"I'm farming and I've used guns here to shoot rabbits and things. It is really different here than going out in a public place. What you see these days with a lot of the culture around hunting, it does seem almost that people are accessorised with guns and hunting equipment.

"Those guys weren't very experienced hunters and they were doing something that experienced hunters wouldn't even contemplate."

Mr McFarlane said that two years on from Miss Ives' death, his family remained devastated. Feelings towards Mr Mears were "mixed"; but underpinning it all was the needlessness of the shooting.

"Mears deliberately acquired a target and shot it," Mr McFarlane said.

"It has caused enormous grief. In lots of ways it's the manner in which it happened; it wasn't by anything she was doing. This is something that's been completely out of her control and out of any natural processes."

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He remembered his niece as "a very bright, cheerful, intelligent young woman".

"It's been a huge waste really for the whole community. She had so much potential; she was only just starting her life."

In his findings, the coroner said law reform was "well overdue". Applying manslaughter to all hunting deaths would reinforce a strong message of deterrence to the hunting community.

In a statement today, Mr Mears said through his lawyer Roger Laybourn he supported Dr Bain's recommendations.

He said he had always taken responsibility for his actions and always hoped that his case would be a lesson to other hunters.

He remained adamant that he would never again pick up a gun.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Rotorua coroner Wallace Bain recommends: More education and firearm safety messages to hunters. Manslaughter to be the applicable charge. Onus on hunter to prove safety provisions in Arms Act and Arms Code are followed. Spotlighting made a specific offence on public land. Others in hunting group be made equally culpable. Review of hunting permits to prevent use of high-powered rifles in multi-use public recreational areas. Law Commission to review an appropriate charge for hunting deaths.

- The Nelson Mail

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