Police officer admits assaulting man

SUPPRESSION LIFTED: Sergeant Craig Elliot Prior.
SUPPRESSION LIFTED: Sergeant Craig Elliot Prior.

A Christchurch police sergeant has admitted an assault on a man who was said to have examined and photographed the contents of his cellphone, which had been left at the scene of a domestic dispute.

Name suppression was lifted on Sergeant Craig Elliot Prior, who was described in the Christchurch District Court today as "a serving senior police officer in Christchurch".

Diversion will be considered - the system under which the police drop charges against first offenders if they apologise and make amends - but the application will have to be considered by the police commissioner in this case.

Defence counsel Jonathan Eaton criticised the media for reporting before today's appearance on name suppression being granted ahead of the case being called, with the suggestion there had been "preferential treatment".

He said the suppression had been sought only because there was a delay for an out-of-town prosecutor to be arranged and for the police to provide the defence with copies of their files on the case.

The media comment on the New Zealand Herald website had been "ill-informed", he told Judge Paul Kellar.

Prior has been remanded at large - no bail was required - to April 2 for a decision to be made on diversion.

Eaton said that if it was not granted, there would be an application for a discharge without conviction.

He said the assault arose from an incident, believed to be on November 24 in Christchurch, when police had been called to a domestic dispute and cannabis had been found being grown at the property.

Prior attended the incident and later realised he had left his cellphone at the address.

The person at the property phoned to say he had been through the phone, found it interesting and photographed the contents.

It was Prior's personal and work phone.

"It contained much private, privileged and personal information, including photographs and details of his children," Eaton said.

When the police went to the property, Prior reached through a gate and held the man by the scruff of the neck and asked about the phone and what photographs had been taken.

Prior is a member of the Police Association's board of directors and is the association spokesman for Canterbury.

The association's website lists Prior as currently unavailable.

The Press