Constable Phil Vink says a "mob mentality" was developing
in Wanaka among some young people before last October's
vicious assault. Photo supplied.
On any normal day, the footpath outside the Doughbin Bakery
in lakeside Ardmore St, Wanaka, is an unremarkable
thoroughfare, frequented mostly by tourists and locals
looking for lunch, dinner or a drink.
Nothing to see here but a planter, a couple of rubbish bins
and a view of the lake beyond the car park and the willows.
But here it was, in the heart of white, middle-class Wanaka,
that a group of the town's teenagers almost killed a tourist
in what has been described as a "frenzied" attack.
The victim has returned to England and declined an Otago
Daily Times invitation to discuss how the assault has
affected him, an event his advocate says is too painful for
him to revisit.
And parents of the youths involved have also declined to
discuss the matter.
At least one family has left Wanaka.
Youth aid officer Constable Phil Vink was one of the first on
the scene that night, although it was all over by the time
police were called.
What he knows of the assault he has picked up from months of
dealing with the offenders, four who went through the Youth
Court and the rest who were dealt with in other ways through
the youth justice system.
He believes before the assault, a culture had been developing
- "a mob mentality" - among some young people in Wanaka, led
by a small core of individuals who considered "having a
fight" was acceptable.
But the assault and its judicial aftermath has changed that.
Const Vink says the members of the "core group" have lost the
respect of their peers.
"Those individuals are very much shunned.
"The core group that created that whole situation don't have
the mana or the respect of those individuals any more so
therefore that whole, if you like, the development of that
culture was very much stomped out as a result of this
Const Vink said in his experience it was not uncommon for
groups of teenagers to follow the lead of a few individuals
but it was "probably a bit unusual" in Wanaka.
"Most kids don't get dragged down that low.
"I haven't seen a bunch of young people getting dragged to
that level of assault and viciousness.
"Most kids don't want a bar of that sort of thing.
"So I think a lot of them were in shock themselves that that
The advocate for the main victim says the man was deeply
affected and suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The advocate was not allowed to discuss with the Otago
Daily Times what went on in the family group conferences
that followed the assault, but said he came away with the
view that the problem arose because the parents lacked
control over their teenagers.
"The parents might as well be the ones who throw the first
punch. It's not really the kids' fault because they will do
what kids do."
While uncomfortable comparing the teenagers to dangerous
dogs, he considered society's attitudes to dogs and dog
owners might well be applied to parents and their teenagers.
"Nobody attributes the blame to the dogs that worry the
sheep. They say it's the owners. The onus is on the owners.
"And that's how I feel a little bit about these poor kids.
They get let off the lead and then they get in trouble."
A number of offenders were pupils at Mt Aspiring College.
Principal Wayne Bosley said this week the return to the
school of those involved in the assault was carefully managed
to ensure the safety of pupils and staff as well as the
"They weren't vilified and they weren't held up as social
"I think there was a very responsible response that proved
that the students were pretty disappointed in the actions of
The school required each pupil involved in the assault to
sign a contract and Mr Bosley said that had proven to be a
"very successful" measure.
He agreed with Const Vink that the main offenders had lost
their mana and he was not aware of any violent incidents
inside or outside the school in the last year.
"The culture of the students ... is an improved one."
However, he believed it would be "pretty naive" to think
pupils were no longer drinking.
Const Vink believes many of the teenagers made poor choices
on October 30 last year, consuming alcohol and then following
others to become a party to the assault.
But he says the mix of influences at play that night were "a
potentially frenzied effect" where people got carried away;
and fear, "where people are too scared to walk away for fear
of, I guess, they don't feel they can stand up against the
worst offenders and therefore they become more spectators and
seem to allow something to happen.
"That's quite hard in itself but it's just human nature, I
guess, isn't it?''