Man fined after home-brew made teen girls ill

Richard Gray. Photo: ODT
Richard Gray. Photo: ODT

A man who sold home-brewed spirits to 15-year-old girls which landed them in hospital vomiting violently has been fined $500.

Richard Gray had been selling the illicit liquor from his South Dunedin flat for nearly a year before police found out, the Dunedin District Court heard this afternoon.

The 65-year-old was charged with selling alcohol as an unlicensed person and pleaded guilty at his first appearance in July, three weeks after the girls were hospitalised.

Judge John Macdonald today said it was a “very unusual charge” and police prosecutor Sergeant Paul Knox also said it was the first such case he had come across.

On July 6, police's Youth Aid section received calls about several girls becoming severely ill after consuming the defendant's home-made whiskey and bourbon.

Enquiries led officers to Gray's flat above Heffs Sports Bar in South Dunedin where they executed a search warrant the next day.

There they found “beer brewing equipment, an operating still, including ingredients to make various spirits and bottle them, 20 one-litre bottles of 40% rum, bourbon, bacardi, vodka and whiskey”.

Gray had $150 in $5 notes at the time, a police summary said.

He told officers he had started his illegal distillery about a year prior when he had lost his job.

The beer was for himself whereas the spirits were sold to those who knocked on his door, he admitted.

Gray told police he would sell the liquor at $15 per litre bottle and would get rid of about 10-20 a week.

However, in court today he said that number was too high.

At a previous hearing, Judge Michael Crosbie voiced his disgust at the offending and said it was “probably the worst offending of its kind”.

“You're operating a sly grog business, not caring about who you're selling to and they go to hospital,” he said.

Defence counsel Shardae Oliver said her client was not living a lavish lifestyle on the back of the alcohol sales and was only meeting costs.

Word got around about Gray's production after he gave some of his moonshine to friends who took it to a party.

He ended up putting a sign on his door advertising his wears but his custom all came by word of mouth, Ms Oliver said.

Sgt Knox said the offending was concerning because “God knows what was in the stuff”.

The strict controls about the sale of liquor were in place for that exact reason, Judge Macdonald said.

He could not sentence Gray to community work, the judge said, because of a slew of health concerns.

But the defendant told the court he felt “much healthier” since his arrest, since no one was knocking on his door in the middle of the night any more.

As well as the fine, the defendant was ordered to pay court costs of $130. 

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