When the harm is immeasurable

Last updated 05:00 26/06/2014

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OPINION: Adam Hill's family is right about one thing. The sentence imposed on Wayne Edgerton will not serve as a deterrent against future hunting tragedies.

Seven months' home detention, 400 hours' community work and $10,000 emotional harm reparation? Surely we can all agree that none of that is likely to loom large in the mind of the next hunter who peers ahead at what may, or may not, be a deer.

But does anyone really believe that that was the true penalty? That Edgerton "got off" with only that?

He carries the guilt. He endures the infamy. He faces the white-hot reproach of a family twisting in grief.

That, surely, is the chill warning that needs to cement itself in the thinking of every hunter, all the time. The sense of "or else" that must dictate and sustain safe hunting practice will never truly be "or I might get in trouble with the law". It's that "I might kill someone".

Adam Hill's life was worth more than any court penalty, no matter how severe, could hope to equate. That doesn't render any potential penalty pointless, or a mere token gesture.

Culpability and consequence are different things. You can't calibrate a sentence against the harm done when that harm is immeasurable, but you can do so on the degree of carelessness shown, which in this case was considerable. Hill was wearing orange fluro clothing when he was shot, from about 41 metres away, by a man who had been part of a campaign highlighting hunting safety.

Seen in isolation, the sentence still does seem light. It's interesting to look around and see what else will buy you seven months' home detention.

In recent months courts have also imposed that penalty on a Masterton man who fleeced a woman out of more than $34,000 to feed his drug addiction (he does not have to repay her because it would take too long), and on a Canterbury man who carried out an armed burglary on a victim he had threatened to shoot. An environmentalist-turned-arsonist who burned down a lodge on a Hauraki Gulf island received nine months' home detention. For what it's worth, he did check beforehand that nobody was in it. All of those cases were premeditated, though nobody died.

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- The Southland Times

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