Farmer's conviction quashed

A Coromandel farmer will avoid prison after a High Court judge quashed his conviction and sentence.

But the couple who claimed they were ripped off have vowed to keep fighting for justice.

Lance Burt was sentenced in July to nine months prison and ordered to pay $81,930 in reparation after being found guilty of stealing more than $80,000 from sharemilkers Ian and Lisa Handcock.

At the time, Judge Robert Wolff found him guilty on one count of accessing a computer for a dishonest purpose, saying the prosecution had proved their case beyond reasonable doubt.

But Mr Burt appealed that finding to the High Court with his lawyer saying that the judge was wrong to say Mr Burt had acted dishonestly and that he'd benefited from the money taken.

This month Justice Geoffrey John Venning said there was, in fact, reasonable doubt over whether Mr Burt knew he was doing something wrong.

He therefore quashed Mr Burt's conviction and sentence. He also said there would be no order for a re-trial.

But Mrs Handcock said they would take new evidence to the police, which she said showed Mr Burt knew what he was doing was wrong.

During the initial defended hearing it was alleged that in 2005 the Handcocks signed a three-year sharemilking agreement with Coromandel Land Trust Ltd. Mr Burt was the company's director.

The contract related to Mr Burt's Whangapoua farm.

But in April 2007 Mr Burt cancelled their sharemilking contract and had Fonterra pay $81,930 of milk payments into his company account.

Under the Sharemilking Agreements Act withheld funds should be deposited into a solicitor's trust account.

Despite a lengthy arbitration process, which found in the Handcocks' favour, Mr Burt failed to pay up. That led to the criminal charges and conviction.

But in the end Justice Venning said there was simply not enough evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Waikato Times