Police case ‘bit of a shambles’: defence

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Failures by Queenstown police led to a reduced charge for an Arrowtown businessman, accused of trying to run over a builder in Arrowtown this year.

Following a trial in the Queenstown District Court before Judge Michael Crosbie, Edwin Murray Richard Lamont, 66, had a charge of dangerous driving – laid after he allegedly tried to reverse into Cliff Erskine in Arrowtown on April 6 – withdrawn by police.

A second charge of threatening language was amended to one of disorderly behaviour.

Crosbie found the police failed to meet their obligations under the Criminal Disclosure Act 2008 in a case defence counsel Guyton Foley labels a “bit of a shambles”.

Last night, Otago Rural relieving area commander inspector Olaf Jensen says the police are unable to comment in detail. However, there will be a review of “how the investigation was handled”.

The court heard the incident related to a long-running stoush between Lamont, co-owner of Mt Soho Winery, and Erskine, contracted to build Lamont’s house.

Erskine says there is a dispute over the final invoice for $96,000, which went through an arbitration process lasting about two and a-half years.

That settled in December, with Lamont ordered to pay Erskine more than $300,000.

Erskine says he parked in Ramshaw Lane about 9am on April 6 and was heading to a nearby cafe when he saw Lamont’s vehicle.

The defendant wound down the passenger window and allegedly said: “You’re a f… dead man, c…”

Erskine responded by saying “grow up” and walked to cross the street behind the car, when Lamont allegedly put it in reverse “and tried running me over”.

He put his hand out and “jumped” out of the way.

The vehicle did not hit him.

Lamont denied the allegations.

In a video interview shown in court, he says he slowed near a speed bump looking for a park, saw Erskine and decided to continue.

He can not recall reversing but says he may have been trying to access a park, or the vehicle rolled backwards due to the speed bump.

Foley, of Auckland, says full disclosure was never received from police and, despite repeated requests from Lamont for extended CCTV footage showing events leading up to the incident, this has never been provided.

There are no notebook entries, no job sheets, no transcript of a video interview with Lamont taken on April 8, and no briefs or statements provided until 10.06am yesterday.

Foley also questioned the quality of the CCTV footage presented in court – lasting about 18 seconds – which he believes is recorded on digital device from the CCTV monitor.

Constable Beth Fookes, of Arrowtown, confirmed the video was an iPhone recording of the original CCTV footage, which had been emailed to constable Shona Campbell, the officer in charge.

Charges were laid against Lamont on April 14, but Fookes was not told, so CCTV footage was not secured.

While she was on leave, the hard drives were removed and replaced.

Fookes says there is no footage recorded before the incident due to the daylight savings time change, a proposition Foley describes as “fantastic”.

Foley says it is “troubling” there were also no notebook entries or job sheets relating to the difficulties with the video.

Prosecuting, sergeant Ian Collin accepted police “departed from best practice” with the CCTV evidence.

While not “shying away” from those failings, that departure is not sufficient to prejudice the evidence presented.

Judge Crosbie says if charges are laid based on CCTV footage, police are under an obligation to secure footage.

“Not just a clip, but what leads up to it.

“My view is that the requirements of the police in relation to disclosure in this case relating to the dangerous driving charge were not met.”

He says there are other aspects “worth noting for the future”, including the importance of keeping notes and job sheets so when matters reached the court they are “less ambiguous than they were today”.

An additional matter is a failure by Campbell to do background checks, revealing previous criminal offending, in relation to Erskine and witness Candice Green.

Judge Crosbie says under the Act it is a “fundamental matter to be disclosed”.

“Evidence was she didn’t do that.”

Lamont was convicted on a charge of disorderly behaviour, fined $400 and ordered to pay $130 court costs.

– Otago Daily Times