Teen cleared over rugby death

Stephen Dudley.
Stephen Dudley.
A 16-year-old boy who assaulted Auckland teen Stephen Dudley has been granted permanent name suppression and a discharge without conviction following the victim's death.

In the High Court at Auckland today, Justice Helen Winkelmann did not impose any penalty on the teenager. She said Stephen's family opposed the suppression order.

The judge said the 16-year-old had already been held to account for his actions and was confronted with the role he played in Stephen's death. The 16-year-old had been excluded from school and isolated from his friends.

Stephen, 15, died after a school rugby training session on June 6 last year. He was taken to Auckland City Hospital after being assaulted and died a short time later.

He was particularly vulnerable as he had an undiagnosed heart condition. Stephen was struck by the 16-year-old, and allegedly, an older teen, and did did not throw a punch himself.

Stephen's father Brett read a victim impact statement to the court today, in which he described the devastating effect of the death on his family. He said they could not separate the assault from Stephen's death.

"It's clear in our minds that your actions and the assault were a significant influence on the subsequent events that ultimately meant Stephen did not return to his family that evening," Mr Dudley told the 16-year-old.

"I get up early in the morning and often visualise Stephen emerging from his bedroom. To [wife] Mona and me, he was the perfect son."

Mr Dudley told the boy he would one day have his own family that he would love. Only then would he understand the Dudleys' sense of loss.

Mr Dudley sad he prayed his son found a sense of peace as his life ebbed away.

The 16-year-old was to face trial for Stephen's manslaughter, but that charge was withdrawn and replaced with one of assault that was promptly admitted. The older teen is still scheduled to defend a manslaughter charge later this year.

Crown prosecutor Aaron Perkins said there was no medical evidence to maintain the manslaughter charge against the 16-year-old.

"[His] conduct after the violence does not reflect well. Although he had no way of knowing how dire the state of Stephen Dudley's health was he did not know of the underlying heart condition he did none-the-less leave the scene without showing any concern for his actions."

Defence lawyer Ron Mansfield said the 16-year-old's family was remorseful. The 16-year-old regretted Dudley's passing and mourned his death.

Mr Mansfield sought a discharge without conviction and name suppression for his client, allowing him to return to school and not himself be the victim of unwanted attention.

"It would be a sad consequence of his acknowledgment of his wrongdoing if he himself then became a target," Mr Mansfield said.

"He has learnt from these sad events to walk away from a fight."

Mr Mansfield said the 16-year-old had no history of violence, and came from a supportive family that hoped he would further his eduction.

Had Stephen's heart condition been known at the outset, the 16-year-old would likely have been dealt with in the youth court, Mr Mansfield said.

- Jimmy Ellingham of APNZ

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