'A sense of entitlement': Conviction for jet-boating lockdown breach

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

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

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 in alert level 4.

On August 20, only 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.

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 the gravity of the offending was low, as shown by police granting diversion to five of the other men.

The defendant had set up his own business, and a conviction would cause him difficulty when applying for professional registration.

It could also potentially cost him customers because of damage to his reputation in the small community in which he lived.

He had written a letter of apology to the court, and had made a donation to Land Search and Rescue.

Judge Turner disagreed, saying the gravity of the offending was not at the low end of the scale when viewed in the context of the worst global pandemic for a century.

The New Zealand government had taken ‘‘drastic steps’’ to save lives by preventing the spread of the virus, and the rules of the lockdown had been widely publicised.

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

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

The river was remote and known for hazards that could cause accidents and require a multi-agency emergency response.

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.

He did not accept a conviction would cost the defendant potential customers any more than his previous conviction had.

Further, the defendant had not provided information on how a conviction would affect his ability to achieve professional registration.

Like other consequences he had put forward as likely to follow from a conviction, such as limiting his ability to travel overseas and jeopardising his future employment prospects, 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 to others.

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