Discharged without conviction for lockdown party

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A former member of the Israeli military’s been discharged without conviction after being held responsible for a gathering at a Queenstown backpackers during last year’s
lockdown.

Riss Gal, 25, was charged after 60-odd guests at the hostel she managed organised a fancy dress quiz night on August 25.

But in Queenstown’s court on Monday, Judge Russell Walker said Gal’s explanation of what happened, and the circumstances in which it happened, ‘‘paint quite a different picture … [from] how it may have appeared to police and the wider public at first blush’’.

When New Zealand went into last August’s lockdown, Gal sought guidance from her employer, Tourism Industry Aotearoa and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment as to how the rules applied to the hostel.

She was advised all 60 guests were considered to be in one bubble and there wasn’t a requirement to enforce social distancing between them.

Gal didn’t organise the fancy dress night but was made aware of it and didn’t see any issue, based on the guidance she’d received.

But when police turned up and expressed concern, she shut it down.

Police had considered her for diversion, but that position was ‘‘not sanctioned further up the chain’’, Walker said.

Gal had no prior convictions, had applied for a work visa in Australia, intended to  continue travelling, and might rejoin the Israeli army, he said.

Ultimately, Judge Walker found the consequences of a conviction were out of proportion to the gravity of the offence and granted the discharge, conditional on Gal making a  $300 payment to a charity.