From push to conviction: How Susan Mouat was sentenced for her husband's death, six years later

SIMON O'CONNOR/STUFF

Simon Harrison speaks about Susan Mouat's sentencing

Bruce Mouat died after being pushed off a porch by his wife, Susan Mouat, but she wasn't charged with manslaughter until five years later. David Burroughs looks into how things played out that night and in the years that followed.

On the night of his death, Bruce Mouat walked out of a liquor store with four boxes of beer and a few bottles of wine under his arm.

The 48-year-old and his wife, Susan, were described by some as heavy drinkers, to the point where they had a pact between themselves to not imbibe.

Susan Mouat was sentenced in the High Court in New Plymouth on Friday, six years after her husband's death.
SIMON O'CONNOR/STUFF

Susan Mouat was sentenced in the High Court in New Plymouth on Friday, six years after her husband's death.

There was also an extensive history of conflict between the pair, with Susan racking up 17 convictions between 1988 and 2011, mostly for violence and threats against Bruce.

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He had even taken out a protection order against her three years before they were married in 2009.

Bruce Mouat died after falling and hitting his head on a concrete paver in the early hours of July 16, 2011.
STUFF

Bruce Mouat died after falling and hitting his head on a concrete paver in the early hours of July 16, 2011.

But on the night of July 15, 2011, the drinks weren't all for Bruce.

He was in charge of planning a function that evening at the Hāwera RSA for the members of Fonterra's emergency response team, a specialised group he led.

Bruce was no stranger at being the organiser of events in the community and was in charge of the Egmont Alpine Club's annual open climb of Mt Taranaki.

It wasn't until Susan's admission that it was revealed she had been the one who caused him to fall.
Supplied

It wasn't until Susan's admission that it was revealed she had been the one who caused him to fall.

He was also the club's immediate past president and the leader of the Taranaki Alpine and Cliff Rescue (TACR).

Bruce headed to the RSA Hall in Hāwera to get it set up for the function, before going to the bar at the RSA with a few of the other guests, where he drank a handle of Speight's.

As other guests began to arrive he went back into the hall and, after dinner was served, delivered one of the evening's two speeches.

Susan Mouat initially told police in 2011 that Bruce had fallen, but admitted she was involved when interviewed in 2016.
SIMON O'CONNOR/STUFF

Susan Mouat initially told police in 2011 that Bruce had fallen, but admitted she was involved when interviewed in 2016.

"It does not seem that he was particularly affected by alcohol at this time," coroner Tim Scott noted in his 2012 findings into Mouat's death.

Four years later, Susan Mouat's confession partly invalidated those findings, but the investigation still gives some insight into the events leading up to and succeeding the death.

Bruce continued to drink over the course of the night and at one stage got into a verbal argument with another person attending the dinner.

"Bruce became really angry, red in the face and began slurring his words," Scott's findings said.

It was that argument that made four people decide it was time for Bruce to go home and, sometime between midnight and 12:30am on July 16, two women drove him back to his house in Hāwera and one of them helped him up the steps to the door.

As she hopped back in the car, her friend asked why she hadn't rung the bell. The answer was that she "was scared of Bruce's wife, Susan".

It was a rocky relationship between Bruce and Susan Mouat and it was their history of domestic violence issues that prompted police to advise the coroner that a post-mortem needed to be carried out.

Susan Mouat herself admitted the relationship had been tough and the couple had used black humour as "a form of coping mechanism" to maintain it.

The night of Bruce's death, Susan Mouat had stayed home from the party and she told Scott she woke around 1:15am to the sound of women's voices in the driveway.

Her original story was that she had lain in bed, knowing Bruce would be drunk, before heading downstairs to let him in. 

What happened next wasn't conclusively known for five years.

She had said she took the keys off him and they continued to argue before using "colourful language" to tell him to leave.

'HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HUG A MURDERER?'  

The original police investigation and coroner's report both found Susan Mouat had headed back to bed after the argument, while Bruce had stumbled and fallen down five steps, hitting his head on a concrete paver on the ground.

But rumour and suspicions lingered among Bruce's family and the wider community, especially after Susan Mouat hugged her sister-in-law at the funeral and asked her "how does it feel to hug a murderer?".

Scott couldn't imagine why someone would make a comment like that and said it showed "a deplorable lack of tact and consideration for Bruce's family and other people attending the funeral".

It was "a crazy piece of self-incrimination" and he theorised that it might have been the guilt she felt for not looking after Bruce properly by helping him to bed that night.

"Perhaps she might have thought that this was 'murder' by proxy - I am not sure," he said.

But it wasn't by proxy at and Bruce hadn't simply fallen down the stairs.

Instead of being wrapped up in bed when Bruce hit his head like she had originally told everyone, Susan Mouat had been standing on the porch her husband had just fallen off after she pushed him.

That was the secret Susan Mouat carried with her for five years, including when she left Hāwera and moved to Napier.

She gave two statements to police in 2011, answered questions from Scott for his findings and was again interviewed by police in Napier in August 2016, each time maintaining her innocence.

But the secret couldn't stay hidden forever and two months later, on October 19, 2016, she admitted pushing Mouat and causing his death.

Two paragraphs in the four-page summary of facts outline what really happened after the argument.

"The deceased attempted to push his way back into the house but the defendant pushed him away," it said.

"The deceased fell backwards off the porch striking his head on a concrete paver."

The summary of facts doesn't outline what it was that prompted Susan Mouat to come forward or why she finally decided to confess.

But New Plymouth Detective Mike Thorne, who travelled to Hastings with Detective Guy Jackson for the final interview, said something had piqued her conscience.

Jackson, the officer in charge of the case, had been investigating as new information came to light, and Thorne said they travelled over to the East Coast after receiving another tip-off.

"Other information became available from another government department that led us to go there and, as you know, we got the result that we needed."

It was during that interview that Susan Mouat finally revealed what had really happened.

"It got the better of her to be honest and as a result she made the admission to detective Jackson on DVD," Thorne said.

"And as a result of that she was charged with the manslaughter of Bruce Mouat."

She first appeared on that charge in October 2016, but the next month she pleaded not guilty.

It wasn't until a year later, when her trial was due to start, she changed her plea to guilty and officially admitted what she had done.

Thorne said it was a "preventable death", but getting the conviction after six years showed that persistence paid off.

"Hopefully it does bring some closure but at the same time there is a lot of hurt among the family as a result of this death," he said.

SENTENCING DISCOUNT 

That was echoed by crown prosecutor Justin Marinovich, who spoke of the loss expressed in the victim impact statements from Bruce's family, who half-filled the public gallery at Friday's sentencing hearing in the High Court at New Plymouth.

He asked for a sentence of between 10 to 12 months' home detention, along with post-detention conditions to address Susan's underlying issues.

"We are dealing with a matter where the level of violence is at the lower end, but still involves actions that have led to loss of life," he said.

Defence lawyer Russell Fairbrother said Susan Mouat was anguished by her actions and continued to carry the guilt of what she had done. He suggested a sentence of supervision coupled with community detention would be appropriate.

"She saw herself as preventing further disturbance from an unexpected disturbance," he said.

While it wasn't self-defence in law, that was how Susan had seen it at the time.

"This is a death which was totally unintended," he said.

"She regrets immensely the outcome and she will relive that for the rest of her life."

Justice Peter Churchman acknowledged the unusual nature of the case, which couldn't have gone ahead had Susan Mouat kept the secret to herself.

"But for your admission, the Crown position would be weak," he said, before giving her a five per cent discount on her end sentence for it.

He decided against community detention, which he said would be too short a sentence.

Instead, she was sentenced to 17.43 months in prison, which Churchman converted to 11 months home detention and ordered her to serve at a home in Napier.

 - Stuff

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