Assault conviction 'exercise in futility' as Stanton saga shows no sign of ending
Nelson protester Lewis Stanton has been convicted of assault after punching Nelson man Ru Dawson in the face during a protest on Trafalgar St.
Stanton, also known as Hone Ma Heke, appeared in the Nelson District Court for a judge alone trial on Monday morning. He was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of himself and his horse Barney on the front.
The assault occurred on November 20 outside Farmers in Trafalgar St, a spot Stanton has occupied for some time, when a protest of his residence on the street became heated.
Judge Ian Mill said there was no doubt Stanton had assaulted Dawson as he agreed he had done so when interviewed by police and again in court, but the issue was whether he had acted in self-defence.
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Mill found Stanton was not acting in self defence and could have "defused the situation" in other ways.
He took some time to consider a 12-minute video of the assault, which was played to the court and concluded that during the incident Stanton was the aggressor, not Dawson.
While the protest was originally intended to be peaceful, Mill said "unfortunately things did not transpire as they should have".
The video showed about 20 protesters holding signs with messages such as, "You're not welcome Lewis", "Ban freedom camping in the CBD", and "Stop junking our town Lewis".
Dawson said when they arrived near Stanton, the protest group were "pelted with water balloons for five minutes at least" which changed the mood of the protest.
Mill said the protest went on for 90 minutes or longer with the opposing groups "right in each other's faces".
"It is not altogether surprising that things started to deteriorate."
Defence lawyers Steven Zindel and Abigail Goodison said Stanton had lashed out as he thought his property was at risk.
Dawson said he "tapped" one of Stanton's boxes with his foot while the defence argued it was more of a kick which had led to Stanton punching him in the face.
Zindel said a Facebook page led by Dawson, "If It Is Ok for Hone, it is Ok for Me", was a personal attack on Stanton and referenced some of the posts on the page in the lead up to the protest.
"My indication is you want to snuff Hone out from the centre of the town."
Mill said he acknowledged there was some threat to Stanton, but it was not directed at his personal safety. He questioned whether Stanton would be prepared to leave Trafalgar St.
Stanton suggested that the Nelson City Council "solve the problem they had created" which had been going on for more than six years.
Mill said he was unsure what Stanton wanted the council to do.
"The council can own up to the mistakes that it made and solve the very problem that they created.
Mill asked Stanton what he would do if the council apologised.
"When I get my horse and cart back I can ride out of here ... If I don't get them well I guess I can't be going anywhere," Stanton said.
Stanton said he lived in poverty and did not have the money to move elsewhere. Mill said he was not minimising the situation, but that Stanton did not have to camp outside Farmers.
"Then please direct on where I can go and afford to go," Stanton said.
Mill said there was one place he could go, and that was prison.
"Are you going to keep me there for the rest of my living days because your system is failing? That is the whole point here judge, your system is continuously failing to solve the problem that the system created in the very first place."
Mill said he would leave that matter to be dealt with in the civil proceedings with the Nelson City Council being held in the High Court.
He had previously sent Stanton to prison which had proven to be an "exercise in futility" as he would only return to Trafalgar St.
"Whatever I do, I don't believe it will prevent him from going and doing what he wants to do as far as his protest is concerned."
Mill said he was unsure if he had any alternative but to send Stanton to prison. He asked for a probation report and remanded Stanton on bail for sentencing on April 20.
Stanton and his belongings were visibly absent from Trafalgar St while he attended court on Monday. By the evening, he had returned to take up residence outside Farmers.