Editorial: Wasn't easy. Not at all

The Easy Rider court case was always going to be hurtful. Perhaps it also managed to be healing.

The agenda was simply for clear-eyed justice, or something as close to it as our laws permit. On those terms the penalties imposed on skipper's widow Gloria Davis and the company of which she found herself sole director, AZI Enterprises, satisfied as much as could reasonably be expected.

But not too many eyes in that courtroom were clear. Even seasoned court personnel choked up in plain human response to the loss of eight lives, the pain of the surviving families and the compassion and support they expressed for Davis herself.

This was a case of bad decisions and, yes, criminal negligence. But Davis and her husband Rewi Karetai were respected in their community and for good reason, not the least of which was his record of proving his bravery on behalf of others.

Davis was simultaneously an offender and a victim. She had known that Karetai, for all his experience, lacked qualifications and that he was not authorised to take any passengers, let alone the six he was carrying.

She was sentenced to 350 hours' community work, fined $3000, and her company was fined $204,500.

Some had said before the trial that she had already suffered enough. But the intent of such prosecutions is not to heap pain upon pain. We should not confuse moisten-lipped vengeance with the need to uphold laws that exist for good reason, as this sinking so miserably proved.

Maritime NZ director Keith Manch said afterwards that the prosecution would send a strong message to those responsible for managing the safety of fishing operations.

If so, then good. A better, more compelling, warning could be taken from the brokenhearted way in which the sentences were handed down and accepted.

And Davis herself deserves the last word for the message she took to the courthouse steps afterwards. Hers was a plea for other spouses serving as directors of family owned companies. When you have no control over the farm, or the boat, or the business, you should remove yourself from the directors' role.

That's a second debate right there. One worth having.

The Southland Times