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Arson accused switches plea at the eleventh hour

Tuesday 1 March 2022 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in

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Arson accused switches plea at the eleventh hour
Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams (right), pictured during a “handover” ceremony in which he took over from former Chief Justice Thomas Crowley Weston QC.

A man charged with arson set to be sentenced in the High Court on Friday asked to switch plea at the eleventh hour to ‘not guilty’.

Derek Trego allegedly set fire to a beach cottage property of Richard Ireton at Avana Point in Turangi in early August, 2019. The defendant is also charged with three counts of contempt of court.

Trego’s lawyer, Lavi Rokoika, indicated she wanted to change to a “not guilty plea” the day her client was meant to be sentenced.

The change came after Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams, who appeared on video conferencing app Zoom, said the Crown’s sentencing submissions were “disproportionately lenient”.

The prosecution’s submissions were based on Trego “suffering the disease of the mind” which was recorded on Trego’s medical report.

Crown suggested Trego should be given a one year or one-and-a-half-year prison sentence.

A one-year prison sentence can be communicated to a probation sentence. The court heard Crown would have required a community treatment order as part of Trego’s probation requirements – if the Judge chose to go down that road.

However, Chief Justice Williams said: “I have difficulty seeing how the existence of a community treatment order can be taken in account for sentencing or taken into account in a significant way.”  

The Chief Justice said the mental health system and the criminal justice system lacked crossover and the mental health system needed to be left to one side.

The mental health factor had some but not a major impact on the end sentence, Chief Justice Williams added. 

The Chief Justice also said he would not be able to get Trego’s sentence down to one year anyway – which indicated Trego would need to go to prison.

After Chief Justice Williams said this, defence lawyer Rokoika asked to speak to her client and asked the Judge to vacate the guilty plea made on February 4, 2022.

The matter is adjourned for a date to be set by court staff.