Teen refused to hand over phone code after mosque threat

Sam Brittenden, 19, admitted not handing over his phone code when police raided his house. Photo:...
Sam Brittenden, 19, admitted not handing over his phone code when police raided his house. Photo: Supplied via NZ Herald
Mystery surrounds why a teenage member of white nationalist group Action Zealandia refused to hand over his cellphone's passcode when police raided his house after an "abhorrent" threat to Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch.

Sam Richard Scott Brittenden, 19, today pleaded guilty to one charge that on March 4 at a Redcliffs address he failed without reasonable excuse to assist police exercising a search power under the Search and Surveillance Act 2012 Section 178.

The police raid came after an image showing a masked man sitting in a car outside Masjid Al Noor mosque started circulating on social media in the days before the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch mosque shootings where 51 Muslims were killed.

It led to police ramping up patrols around Al Noor and Linwood mosques and the image being referred to the Chief Censor to consider whether it should be classified as objectionable material.

Brittenden was arrested and spent the night in police cells before appearing the next day at Christchurch District Court.

He was never charged over the mosque threat - and was released on bail.

Brittenden returned to court this morning, supported by family members and represented by top defence lawyer, James Rapley QC.

Through his lawyer, he pleaded guilty to the charge this morning.

The court heard that Brittenden was home alone on March 4 this year when police arrived at his house at 12.15pm to execute a search warrant.

Officers found a phone in a bedroom and Brittenden at first claimed it belonged to his brother.

But when police dialled the number Brittenden gave as being his own, the phone rang.

He admitted it was his, but when officers asked for its password, he gave an incorrect code.

The police summary of facts says he gave the incorrect code on several occasions and claimed he'd forgotten it.

Brittenden eventually gave them the right code but by then police were concerned about being locked out of the device.

However, they were later able to gain entry to the phone and examine it, the court heard.

At his first court appearance a duty lawyer said more charges were likely.

But Rapley today said police had seen what was on the phone and no more charges were coming.

He described Brittenden's actions as "the foolish mistake of a 19-year-old" who had since written a letter of apology to police for wasting their time.

Rapley said Brittenden was not in a good place at the time but has since had amazing support from his family, counsellors, and made "significant changes in his life".

The lawyer suggested that a conviction and discharge would be sufficient.

However, the Christchurch District Court judge today fined him $500 plus court costs, saying he struggled to understand why he wouldn't hand over his passcode – especially when no others charges were laid.

"It's a puzzle to me really," the judge said.

Brittenden was rushed into a waiting car outside court and made no comment as he left.

It was not Brittenden's first brush with the law.

Last year, he was sentenced in the Dunedin District Court to 125 hours' community work and six months' supervision after pleading guilty to disorderly behaviour.

The court heard that Brittenden, then a law student, had made anti-Muslim slurs the day after the Christchurch mosque shootings.

His lawyer at the time called his offending "the drunken ramblings of an 18-year-old" and applied to have his client's name permanently suppressed because the details would be a permanent blight on his character.

But Judge John Macdonald said, while unfortunate, that did not amount to extreme hardship.

Brittenden was partying on the streets of Dunedin with other students on March 15.

Police were clearing Castle St when the teen approached their patrol vehicle and said words to the effect of: "Muslims are not welcome in our country. Go home Muslims".

Brittenden argued he was exercising his freedom of speech and called police "right-wing fascists".

While the discussion progressed, three women told the officers the defendant had earlier been repeatedly shouting "f*** the Muslims".

He was then arrested.



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