A judge has admonished two Wakatipu brothers caught up in an imported scorpions scandal for risks to New Zealand biosecurity.
Judge Kevin Phillips dished out 150 hours of community work and two months’ community detention to Queenstown builder Matthew Stuart Grant and Arrowtown sparkie James Alexander Grant on Monday.
Matthew, 22, and James, 24, had previously admitted charges relating to the possession, sale and disposal of scorpions – in breach of national biosecurity laws.
During sentencing at Queenstown District Court, Judge Phillips told the men while they weren’t “scorpion smugglers”, they’d been prepared to take the scorpions, and the likelihood of them escaping and causing “all types of issues” was high.
Each charge carried with it a maximum penalty of five years in prison or a $10,000 fine and Judge Phillips said it was set up to protect New Zealand from evasive species being brought into the country “unlawfully and surreptitiously”.
Had any of the scorpions been pregnant and escaped there was no way of knowing what the impact might have been on New Zealand’s flora and fauna, or people they came in contact with, he said.
Defence counsel Sonia Vidal said the distinguishing factor between the Grant brothers and Iszac Walters, of Sydney – who imported the scorpions and will be sentenced next month – was the brothers “weren’t actually involved in the importation … nor did they seek for those scorpions to be imported”.
Vidal’s sentencing notes says Walters is an exotic creatures enthusiast and the Grant brothers only became aware of the scorpion importation when he arrived in the Wakatipu to stay with them.
After Walters imported the six black rock scorpions into NZ via Christchurch International Airport in February, all six were given to James Grant, who later supplied four to Matthew Grant.
Matthew sold two for $300 to Mason Anthony Brookes, to be sentenced next month.
Vidal said the brothers had been “extremely naive” in their approach to the situation.
While Judge Phillips said they’d destroyed evidence by boiling, crushing and then burning the scorpions after discovering biosecurity officials were aware of their existence, Ms Vidal said they’d “killed the animals so that the risk was gone”.
Vidal’s sentencing notes shed some light on why the scorpions were brought into NZ, describing Walters as an exotic creature enthusiast with an extensive knowledge of reptiles, having raised many different types in Australia.
Walters introduced James Grant to such creatures and gave him in-depth background on the scorpions, explaining they were in an infant state and preferred temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius or higher.
Otherwise, they’d get lethargic, less active and die of the cold.
Walters had explained they were not capable of stinging due to their immaturity but once mature their sting was similar to that of a bee and not fatal, Vidal told the court.
Walters passed on this and other information – such as they need to be fed an insect once or twice a week – so the Grants would be able to care for them properly.
Vidal told the court the Grants kept them in sealed containers with small holes for breathing – and escape wasn’t possible.
Neither of the men had previously appeared before the court.
In sentencing the men, Phillips took into account mitigating factors, including their previous good character, guilty pleas and that to a certain extent their offending was ”opportunistic”.
“You two men are diligent, industrial and you’ll end up being good citizens.
“My duty here is deterrence … to bring it home to you and the community and any other person approached by importers of any type of creature … that the court will take a strong handle on it.”
Both were ordered to pay $1000 each to the cost of the prosecution.– Otago Daily Times/Mountain Scene