A Rotorua police officer has been fined $2400 for fishing without a licence and giving false details to a Fish and Game officer.
Constable Zane Roberts, 26, will also be subject to an internal police investigation.
Roberts appeared in the Rotorua District Court for sentencing this week on a charge of fishing without a license and giving false particulars, namely a fake name, date of birth, address, and phone number.
The charges relate to the constable’s actions on Lake Rotoiti on October 1 last year, the trout fishing season’s opening day.
Lake Rotoiti is managed by Fish and Game New Zealand eastern region which spends about $100,000 a year maintaining it, Judge Greg Hollister-Jones said in court. The cost of licences contributes to this.
Roberts’ lawyer Fraser Wood was seeking permanent name suppression for him and a discharge without conviction but the judge declined both.
Judge Hollister-Jones said Roberts went fishing with a friend that day and planned, but failed to, obtain a day license which costs $21.
That afternoon, the boat they were in was approached by a Fish and Game officer who asked to see their licences. Roberts’ friend produced a valid family license which Roberts said he was included on, claiming to be a half-brother.
Roberts claimed the second name “Denise” on the license was a typo and his name was actually Dennis.
In a signed statement given to the officer, Roberts gave a false name, date of birth, address and phone number.
Twelve days later, after further inquiries, Fish and Game contacted Roberts’ employer, the police, asking to speak to him.
Roberts went to the local Fish and Game office the same day and when he was told what the matter was about he exercised his right to silence and did not make a statement.
A Fish and Game officer recorded in his notebooks an exchange after that where the officer asked “did you catch anything out there” and Roberts said “I wasn’t even there”, the judge said.
Wood said Roberts didn’t remember saying that.
“He tried to talk his way out of it which was obviously stupid … He didn’t proactively put his hand up to Fish and Game and say sorry.
“Overall the gravity of the offence is relatively minor. It’s only because of his role as a police officer there are direct consequences.”
Sefton Revell, the lawyer for Fish and Game, said the phrase “I wasn’t even there” was an example of Roberts doubling down on his initial lie.
“There’s ample opportunity to come clean and when he’s faced with the very same investigator who was out on the boat … and given the chance to come clean he says ‘no, no, no I wasn’t even out there’.”
Revell acknowledged there was a “real risk” Roberts could lose his job as a police officer due to a “massive lapse of judgment”.
“Police are well aware of this, well aware of the circumstances and well aware of the dishonesty.”
A discharge without conviction, what Roberts’ lawyer was seeking, is when a defendant, although guilty of an offence, will have no criminal record.
Wood argued a conviction may make it more likely Roberts would lose his job but Judge Hollister-Jones said while a conviction would be “a considerable personal setback,” he believed Roberts’ career would also be affected if the court discharged him without conviction.
He also declined permanent name suppression.
He acknowledged the offending would be viewed seriously by the New Zealand Police and “may well contribute to the loss of his job”.
“While the consequences of a conviction are personally and professionally significant they are the ordinary consequences of a conviction.
“I accept it may lead to loss of employment. That’s a matter for the New Zealand Police.
“A conviction is likely to be an additional factor your employer will consider when deciding if you’ve brought the police into disrepute.”
He acknowledged Roberts’ good character, employment as a police constable, lack of previous charges and remorse and said the fishing without a license charge was low level.
“I suspect you would not be here today if that was all you had done.”
But Roberts had not only orally given false information but signed a statement. Making the false particulars charge moderate to moderately serious, the judge said.
He acknowledged Roberts’ personal difficulties in 2020 including the death of his grandmother in June, and a sporting injury in August but said he did not accept those had contributed to his decision to sign a false statement.
“I can accept your head may not have been in the right place on the first of October when you forgot to get a fishing license before starting out.
“You state you thought you could talk your way out of being caught you went further than that because you signed a false statement and took no steps to rectify the situation.”
The maximum penalty for fishing without a licence is a fine of $5000.
Judge Hollister-Jones fined Roberts $500 for fishing without a license, $900 for giving false particulars and ordered him to pay $1000 towards Fish and Game to go towards legal fees. Roberts will also pay $130 in legal fees.
The friend Roberts was fishing with had previously been fined $300, the judge said.
A police spokesperson confirmed in a written statement Roberts remained working for New Zealand Police, the organisation was aware of the matter before the court and would undertake an internal investigation.
“We are not in a position to go into further detail for privacy considerations,” they said.
Bay of Plenty Police Association director Scott Thompson said it would not be appropriate for him to comment until the investigation was completed.
In a statement, Eastern region Fish and Game manager Andy Garrick said the organisation was satisfied with the outcome in court.
“By far the majority of anglers we encounter are law-abiding, and it’s very disappointing when we come across the relatively few who choose not to, particularly when those persons provide us with false details and go to considerable lengths to conceal their identity as was the case here.”
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