Editorial: Jackasses aplenty

Last updated 05:00 11/02/2013

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OPINION: The staggering stupidity and cruelty of those who would be the life of the party continues to surface in New Zealand courts.

Nobody's smiling at the most recent inglorious case of teenager Daniel Trevor Nelson, who has admitted branding a drunkenly unconscious 16-year-old boy with a hot cigarette lighter to give him burn scars known as "smileys" on his face. Nelson faces sentence on this and a second branding stunt, this time on the thigh of a 15-year-old girl.

The boy's scarring, in particular, was described in the Alexandra District Court as possibly permanent. Judge Eddie Paul has called this behaviour sick, which indeed it was. No less so for also being imbecilic.

Another snickering creep to make the headlines recently, though under age and unidentified, put a tattoo on the back of another resident of a Porirua Child, Youth and Family home. Home tattooing is seldom wise, even less so when it's juvenile. The victim, a boy, had asked for a cross "like Jesus died on" and was given, instead, a swastika. Nice.

Teenagers, particularly, tend to live in the moment when they are recreationally minded. Matt-Dillon Shannon, 17, thought it would be a real hoot to pour petrol on another boy at a birthday party and set him alight. So too, presumably, did others who held their victim down and laughed at his pleading.

Instead of rolling away and dabbing the fire out in the way they had airily imagined, he screamed and burned in the manner of just about anyone who has been doused in accelerants. Quite apart from his physical injuries, he is now mentally fragile and distressed. For his part, Shannon has been sentenced to three years' jail, a lesser sentence for helping police identify those who pinned the boy down.

Shannon blamed the Jackass television programmes and movies, which are, indeed, an abundant source of dangerous stupidity. Nothing quite so mad as pinning people against their will, dousing them with petrol and setting it alight, however.

You want more drunken pranks? We are seriously spoilt for choice.

Late last year Hamilton coroner Gordon Matenga found himself ruling on the accidental death of a Motueka man who died after a friend taped his mouth closed to shut him up.

By common consent, Mick McGrath was a nice enough guy when sober, but an obnoxious drunk, and there was no perceptible malice behind his companions just wanting to shut him up. But it was a terribly stupid action even if police determined - and it must surely have been a fine call - that it was not culpable enough to warrant prosecution.

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Awful party pranks are by no means the sole province of teenage idiocy.

They scarcely come more heartbreaking than the case of Matthew Schofield who, at a Merrill Lynch party in Auckland in 2000, careered around trying to set fire to hats and clothing, finally igniting the grass skirt of former Southland Boys' High School pupil and sportsman, and high-rising futures trader, Gareth MacFadyen. Gareth died in hospital.

As we've said before, there are times when those who are just determined to be the life of the party wind up being the death of somebody else.

- The Southland Times

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