Fall from grace for former Otago Rebels netballer

Detective Constable Melissa-Mae Ruru won the New Zealand Police Association Police Sportsperson...
Detective Constable Melissa-Mae Ruru won the New Zealand Police Association Police Sportsperson of the Year award for 2012. Photo: Supplied
Melissa-Mae Ruru was a model policewoman and sports champion. Tyson Sykes helped run a family gym and mentored young boxers.

They had hopes of wearing the silver fern at the Rio Olympics.

But yesterday their fall from grace concluded when a judge sentenced them to home detention for attempting to defeat the course of justice.

Ruru (36) and Sykes (33) were found guilty by a jury last year of submitting false community work records that gave Sykes an ‘‘easy ride’’ to complete a court ordered sentence.

Ruru was also found guilty of two separate forgery charges after she signed Sykes’ signature on community work forms and an Olympic form.

Tyson Sykes and Melissa-Mae Ruru appear for sentencing in the Rotorua District Court yesterday....
Tyson Sykes and Melissa-Mae Ruru appear for sentencing in the Rotorua District Court yesterday. PHOTO: ROTORUA DAILY POST
Ruru, who has resigned as a police officer, was sentenced yesterday in the Rotorua District Court to five months’ home detention and Sykes was sentenced to three months’ home detention.

Sykes’ sentence was significantly reduced, given time already spent in custody and on electronic bail.

Ruru played for the Otago Rebels netball team in 2004 and 2005 and was the Otago Institute of Sport athlete of the year in 2004.

She also received an Otago Polytechnic Students Association sporting blue in 2004.

Their offending came to light after police searched Sykes’ Steeles Lane home in 2018, finding cannabis, a firearm and ammunition. Sykes was sentenced separately on those charges. Police took Sykes’ phone and discovered hundreds of damning Facebook messages revealing his offending with Ruru.

The messages included statements from Ruru such as: ‘‘Hey, if Probation asks, you did six hours on Saturday’’ and asking Sykes if he was attending boxing fights to ‘‘just show your face’’ so she could put him down for community work hours.

 Forgery charges stemmed from messages such as: ‘‘If anyone rings, you just signed this form in front of me, it’s an athlete agreement form. Just say you signed the form.’’ She then sent a photo of the signed form, to which he replied: ‘‘OK mate, I trust you’’.

Regarding community work records, she messaged him: ‘‘I’m just going to sign them for you if that’s sweet’’, Sykes replying ‘‘Sing [sic] away . . . ’’.

Both hoped to make the Rio Olympics, Ruru in volleyball and Sykes in boxing.

Ruru was Sykes’ boxing manager and friend as well as his approved ‘‘sponsor’’, able to sign off his community work sentences for driving while disqualified offences.

Community Corrections agreed the work could be carried out at the Sykes family boxing gym, where Ruru volunteered as gym manager. Sykes was to do jobs at the gym and mentor young boxers.

The jury found the pair not guilty on a joint charge of defeating the course of justice in 2016 relating to submitting false community work records.

The convictions were a fall from grace for Ruru, who was a national and regional sporting representative in several codes and was named the Police Sportsperson of the Year in 2012.

She was also considered a police ‘‘poster girl’’, fronting police media campaigns and appearing on television series Women in Blue.
Ruru’s counsel, Bill Lawson, told Judge Phillip Cooper during sentencing yesterday, the mother of two small children had struggled to find employment in management roles, given the nature of her convictions.

Judge Cooper said Ruru had not undermined the police as her actions were outside of her police role. However, he said given her role as a police officer, there was a breach of trust.

Judge Cooper noted shortcomings in the way the community work sentences were set up.

He said Community Corrections had the impression the boxing gym offered a youth programme. Although it catered for young people, there was no structured youth programme in place.

Crown prosecutor Hayley Sheridan argued against a defence suggestion that Ruru should be given community detention.

She said the justice system had been damaged as there was an expectation sentences would be carried out properly. Sykes’ sentence had been undermined in a ‘‘very significant way’’.

Sheridan said Ruru should not be given a full reduction for her good character because it was her position as a police officer that allowed her to offend.

Sykes and Ruru declined to comment to media after the sentencing.

Ruru was stood down from the police on full pay following her arrest in 2018. During her trial in August last year, she was still a police officer.

Bay of Plenty district commander Superintendent Andy McGregor said police acknowledged the sentencing of ‘‘a former officer’’

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