Conviction, $500 fine for lockdown breach

A Lake Hawea man has been fined $500 for going jet-boating near Makarora during last year’s Covid-19 lockdown.

Ben Declifford (22), plumber, sought a discharge without conviction when he appeared before Judge Michael Turner in the Queenstown District Court yesterday.

He had already admitted a charge of intentionally failing to comply with a Covid-19 public health response by attending a gathering in an outdoor place under Alert Level 4.

On August 20, three days into the lockdown, he and six others drove in two vehicles, each towing a jet-boat, more than 40km to a boat ramp near Makarora.

They launched the boats and travelled about 40km upriver to Kerin Forks before returning to the ramp.

However, their actions were spotted by Makarora residents, and police were waiting for them when they returned to the ramp.

The seven had formed a bubble just before the lockdown came into effect.

Declifford’s counsel, Alice Milne, said a conviction would cause the defendant difficulty when applying for professional registration, and potentially cost him customers for his new business.

Judge Turner said the gravity of the offending was not low in the context of the worst global pandemic for a century.

‘‘You made a deliberate decision to flaunt the rules.

‘‘There was planning and premeditation; the decision was made to go fishing or hunting.’’

His actions showed a ‘‘disregard for the law, the safety of your community and demonstrate a sense of entitlement’’.

He noted five of the men had been granted diversion because they had no criminal history, but a sixth had received a community work sentence because of previous convictions.

Declifford had a conviction for drink-driving in 2020.

The judge did not accept a conviction would cost him potential customers any more than his previous conviction had.

Further, the defendant provided no information on how a conviction would affect professional registration.

Like other consequences he had put forward as likely to follow from a conviction, such as limiting his ability to travel and work, they were ‘‘speculative, or at best, minimal’’.

He dismissed the application for a discharge, and said a conviction was necessary to hold him to account and serve as a deterrent.





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