Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Rape trial inquiry extends to internet, radio

NZ Herald
Rape trial inquiry extends to internet, radio

By Angela Gregory

Authorities are investigating alleged breaches of suppression orders relating to the Louise Nicholas rape case - not just in pamphlets handed out by a Wellington vigilante group, but also on the internet and radio.

The breaches are causing concern in relation to the High Court trial which last week cleared Assistant Police Commissioner Clint Rickards and former police officers Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton of historical sex allegations by Mrs Nicholas.

Mr Shipton's lawyer, Bill Nabney, confirmed he had laid complaints with the police over the actions of the Wellington group and other incidents involving the internet and radio broadcasts. "They are investigating."

The Herald yesterday viewed two internet sites which discussed matters under suppression orders, although by late afternoon the material was removed from one of those sites.

On Monday, about 1600 pamphlets containing suppressed material were handed out at the Wellington Railway Station and in Cuba Mall.

A spokeswoman for the distributors, Emma Wills, said the group had since decided to stop circulating the flyers after being spoken to by police.

Officers had given information which caused them to change their minds about carrying on, she said.

Ms Wills denied that showed they were reckless to have taken the action in the first place and said they would have just done things differently. "We had sought legal advice."

Instead the group was distributing a new leaflet which did not breach any suppression orders. Ms Wills said they had had only positive feedback from passersby, many of whom already knew what had been suppressed.

She thought it unlikely their action would lead to a contempt of court charge and possible jail.

Professor John Burrows, a media law specialist at Canterbury University, said whether a breach of a suppression order would lead to a charge of contempt of court was a complex question.
Breaches were usually accidental, he said, and even if deliberate were not necessarily evidence of contempt of court. That would depend on whether there were circumstances over and above the breach which showed contempt of the court process.

Mr Schollum's lawyer, Paul Mabey, QC, said he had referred the matter to the Solicitor-General as well as the police because the action of the Wellington group was a "flagrant breach" of the suppression order.

Wellington police said they were waiting for documents from the High Court at Auckland to help assess whether a breach had been committed.

Detective Senior Sergeant Simon Perry said he hoped to have them within the next few days. "Once we've received and studied the documents we'll have a better idea of what orders may have been breached and what action will follow."

The offence of breaching suppression orders carried a maximum fine of $1000 but not a jail term. "People can't be arrested for this but can be summonsed to appear before the court."

Mr Perry said the issue surrounding contempt of court was a separate one determined by the judiciary in consultation with the Solicitor-General.

A spokeswoman for the Solicitor-General yesterday confirmed he, too, was looking into the issues.


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