Man, 81, sent to prison for sex abuse of boy

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:30 03/11/2012

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A frail, elderly Nelson man who used his position in a church to befriend a young boy and his family has gone to prison for 18 months for serious sexual offences committed against the teenager.

When he appeared in the Nelson District Court in May, Hugh Nielsen, 81, admitted a representative charge of indecent assault involving a boy aged 12-16 between September 2004 and May 2005, and another of unlawful sexual connection with a young person aged under 16.

He pleaded guilty to the charges after the first day of a trial, and was remanded on bail for sentencing yesterday.

Nielsen was also instructed to pay $15,000 in emotional harm reparation which he had earlier offered the victim and his family.

Nielsen, who recently suffered a stroke, appeared pale and emotionless throughout the sentencing.

In deciding whether prison or home detention was appropriate, Judge Tony Zohrab took into account the principles and aims of sentencing, plus aggravating and mitigating circumstances. These included that Nielsen had suggested in front of a jury that the complainant was a liar, in that he had made up the story for financial gain, but then admitted the offences and offered the victim and his family a large sum of money.

Judge Zohrab said Nielsen had played down the frequency of the sexual connection, including "numerous oral sexual connections", which had robbed the victim of his childhood and left him with a "large degree of self-loathing".

He said the impact of such offending was no different for boys than it was for girls.

Judge Zohrab acknowledged that Nielsen would find prison difficult. He said the principles of sentencing were to deter, to denounce and to protect the community, and Nielsen had acknowledged that he had "always been attracted to young boys who met certain criteria".

Crown prosecutor Mark O'Donoghue said the victim impact statement was "harrowing reading", and it was no exaggeration to say that the effect of the offending had been devastating.

He acknowledged that Nielsen had been through Restorative Justice, but said that throughout the process Nielsen had displayed a degree of minimisation or "blame shifting".

Defence lawyer Tony Bamford said it was difficult to quantify the number of occasions on which the offending occurred. He said the trouble was that the history between Nielsen and the victim started when the victim was 12.

Mr Bamford said Nielsen accepted that his actions had had a "significant impact" on the victim and that the Restorative Justice process had been difficult for all.

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"Mr Nielsen may to an extent have minimised things, but he has quite candidly apologised and has accepted he overstepped boundaries and that the victim's life has been affected.

"He recognises that he has to deal with issues, but it appears there was an infatuation. He has reached an age where he has to address matters in the context of any sentence, and that will be a struggle," Mr Bamford said.

Judge Zohrab said that despite the mitigating factors, the victim was a child and the encounters happened on more occasions than Nielsen was prepared to accept.

"The victim was vulnerable and was flattered by the attention from a trusted adult who had offered financial assistance to him and his family."

Judge Zohrab described the indecent acts as being at the most serious end of the spectrum. He said Nielsen was fortunate that the victim and his family were compassionate and had supported a rehabilitative sentence. He also had "significant community support" from his church.

"I understand that you may be looking at the end of your life, but the victim still has the rest of his life to live, and he will have to endure the consequences of this for the rest of his life."

- The Nelson Mail

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