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"Thanks for all the support"

Mon 22 Aug 2011 In: True Stories View at Wayback View at NDHA

Arie and Michael telling their story to Sunday As he digests the news all charges against him and his partner Arie Smith-Voorkamp have been dropped, Michael Davis is expressing thanks to all their supporters. "Thank everyone for all the support, from me and Arie," he has told "Yes we are very happy, now we can get on with our life together." The couple was left taken aback in the dock in the brief two minute appearance at the temporary Christchurch District Court, the Maori Land Court, where they were quickly told all charges were being dropped and the next case was called this morning. The men were arrested six months ago, after the devastating second earthquake in Christchurch. As public emotion and shock ran high, Smith-Voorkamp was labelled 'the face of looting' by media who were not aware of the full circumstance of the case and thought he was taking advantage of a city that was on its knees. As it emerged Smith-Voorkamp had Asperger's and had tried to take two light bulbs and a switch from a damaged building due to his compulsion for electrical equipment, and Davis was trying to keep him safe, the public's understanding grew and the stance softened. However police remained unmoved in their determination to see the couple face the charges and repeatedly refused diversion. Police have now dropped all charges, following a second psychiatric report. They also agreed to drop charges against Davis, saying they would give him the benefit of the doubt that he was in the building to protect his partner. Outside the court, Smith-Voorkamp said he was relieved the prosecution had been dropped and he could now get on with his life without being scared. Defence lawyer Jonathan Eaton, who took the case pro-bono, says that if there is a lesson to be learned, it's that not everyone can be put in the same box. "Things got a little lost in the system. It was treated as just another earthquake case. There was no careful or close scrutiny of the case." Eaton says Smith-Voorkamp does not want to pursue the allegation he was assaulted as he was arrested. The couple is planning to move away from Christchurch and start a new life in Invercargill. "An excellent victory" Long-time gay rights and justice campaigner Bill Logan, who has described the case against the men as "the most shameful contemporary injustice in New Zealand" says it's an excellent victory. "These are two people whose lives have been torn apart for six months. And if you put on top of that the earthquake and [Arie's] condition, it's just an awful load for anyone to carry, and if you put these extra things on it makes life very, very hard. And the hurt they have suffered is entirely disproportionate and needless. That's not justice. The police have acted in a way which has repercussions which are evil and which they ought to have had a duty of care to prevent, rather than cause." Logan would not be surprised if an apology from police did a lot, "because one of the things we're talking about is a sense of dignity, which is very difficult to have if you're marginalised anyway, and which by the extra marginalisation these people have suffered, their dignity has therefore suffered a particularly deep wound. "To say 'we were wrong' and apologise, might in the circumstances, although it's something no outsider could say, it's only something that Arie and Michael can say really, but it just might be felt to take a step in the direction of offering them some dignity." "The best possible news" John Greally from Asperger's New Zealand has been following the case closely and is absolutely ecstatic. "We were expecting the saga to continue, to a very bloody end" he explains. "And this is the best possible news, to have for both of them, charges dropped." Greally says 'a goodly part' of justice has been served. "It's the best part," he says. "For Arie and Michael it's now onwards and upwards." The Welllingtonian says he would love to be able to give both of the men a big hug and he hopes life works out well for them as they move to Invercargill and start afresh, away from Christchurch. While he is overjoyed that the charges have been thrown out, Greally would still like apologies from shock jock Michael Laws and senior police. He also wants an investigation into claims Smith-Voorkamp was assaulted while he was being arrested with an elbow to the head. "I think whether or not Arie or Michael want the assault investigated, the impetus to investigate should be there," he says. "We're past the days where if the complainant does not want to place a charge, violence is excused. And for good reasons, because too often the person who is struck is not always in the right frame of mind to know what long-term harm can be caused by not pursuing the matter." Greally also points out that there will be other natural disasters and it’s important that people act as rationally and coolly as all the judges who have had the case presented before them in the past six months. "And not create a public furore before they have the information they really need." He is paying tribute to reporter Janet McIntyre from TVNZ's Sunday programme who he says went out on a limb, as well as their early lawyer Simon Buckingham and also Eaton who picked up the case pro-bono. "The [Asperger's] community has hauled itself up in the process another notch," he says. "And that's a permanent gain for all of us, because this tragedy has brought us all closer together and attracted so much support. I don' think it's a bad thing, should this ever happen again."     Jacqui Stanford - 22nd August 2011

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Monday, 22nd August 2011 - 1:07pm

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