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Police explain actions in Smith-Voorkamp case

Mon 22 Aug 2011 In: New Zealand Daily News

Acting Assistant Commissioner of Operations Dave Cliff Senior police are backing the actions of Christchurch officers in arresting Arie Smith-Voorkamp and his partner Michael Davis, and have explained why they pressed on with court proceedings for six months. All charges against the couple were dropped in a court appearance this morning. It came after police had repeatedly refused diversion for the men, who were found in a damaged building after the February quake where electricity-obsessed Smith-Voorkamp was trying to take two light bulbs and a light switch. “After initially running from police, the men were not compliant and were forced to the ground to be handcuffed. Mr Smith-Voorkamp had a bang to the side of his face. The pair were affected by alcohol and potentially drugs at the time of arrest,” says Acting Assistant Commissioner of Operations Dave Cliff. He says there were only two police officers involved in the arrests and is adamant there were no other police or defence staff present as later claimed. "I fully back the actions of the officers involved. Their actions were entirely appropriate." Cliff says the Smith-Voorkamp and Davis were, on the face of it, caught in the act of burglary and with instruments capable of being used for burglary in a badly damaged building in the red zone three days after the February earthquake. "The decision to charge the defendants was made taking into account the clear evidence of burglary and public interest factors - such as the need to deter others from looting and the heightened public safety concerns during this time," Cliff says. He says when the effect of Smith-Voorkamp's ability to form intent was raised, police asked for the issue to be investigated properly and found that the appropriateness of the charges could not be determined until the appropriate mental health assessment reports had been obtained. Cliff says resolution of the charges took so long because of the delay in having the defendant medically assessed. He says it was important that due process was followed. "Last Thursday, Police received from defence counsel a copy of the Forensic Psychiatric report which concluded that Mr Smith-Voorkamp has diminished responsibility in relation to the charges. Police consider that when taking this into account, the Crown Prosecution Guidelines ‘public interest test' is no longer met and therefore leave was sought to withdraw both charges. “Police have considered the effect of this outcome and the charges faced by the co-defendant Mr Michael Davis. The diminished responsibility of Mr Smith-Voorkamp added credibility to the explanation of Mr Davis that he was there to look after his partner. The Police were, therefore, prepared to accept this explanation and give him the benefit of the doubt. Taking into account public interest factors, leave was sought to withdraw both charges laid against him also," Cliff says. On the issue of why Smith-Voorkamp was refused diversion, Cliff explains that he initially pleaded guilty to the charges, but then withdrew that and applied to be dealt with by Diversion while denying responsibility for the offending. "The Police Adult Diversion Scheme is a mechanism that allows for some offenders to be dealt with 'out of Court' and without receiving a conviction,” Cliff says. “There are criteria which need to be met before a charge can be dealt with by Diversion. This includes that there is sufficient evidence to prove the charges and it is in the public interest for the matter to be prosecuted and the offender accepts responsibility. Therefore, when there are issues of intellectual impairment which may offer a defence, the Diversion criteria are not met. It is inappropriate to use Diversion as a tool for dealing with people who may have a defence to the charge.”    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Monday, 22nd August 2011 - 4:27pm

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