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Steven Wallace: JPs dismiss murder charge

Update 9 April 2002 - The hearing of the application for the written consent of a judge to file an indictment in the High Court in the private prosecution of Constable Abbott will be heard in the New Plymouth High Court on 4 June 2002 by Chief Justice Sian Elias.

Update 15 March 2002 - John Rowan, QC, representing the Wallace whänau , today filed an application with the High Court at New Plymouth for the case to be heard by a High Court judge; if the application is granted the case will go to trial. "The grounds of my application are that the justices were wrong in law in their decision and wrong with the facts. There was sufficient evidence to put Constable Abbott on trial," Mr Rowan said.

20 February 2002

The depositions hearing on the private prosecution for murder brought against Constable Abbot, the police officer who shot and killed Steven Wallace on 30 April 2000, ended today with the dismissal of the murder charge by Justices of the Peace Bob Moffat and John More. The private prosecution was brought by Steven's father Jim Wallace on 6 September 2001. At that time, more than sixteen months after Steven’s death, no progress had been made towards justice by the official bodies whose duty it is to investigate the actions of police officers which result in harm or death.

We have not yet received a copy of the JPs judgment, but according to media reports they chose not to send the case to the High Court for trial because they were satisfied Constable Abbot had acted in self defence and in line with police procedure. Their decision was surprising because our understanding of the role of a depositions hearing is that it is to decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence for a trial to proceed, not to decide whether or not an accused person is innocent or guilty.

From the media coverage of the the evidence put forward at the depositions hearing, as well as from reading the police homicide enquiry report, ‘Steven James Wallace: Fatally Wounded at Waitara’, it is clear that there remain many unanswered questions about whether or not Constable Abbott was acting in self defence, and whether or not he was acting in accordance with police procedure. These questions, and others, have been raised in a series of PMA alerts since Steven was killed - they are available, along with Moana Jackson’s analysis of the police report, on-line at

Interestingly, the JPs decision (as reported in the media) uncannily resembles a paragraph in the conclusion of the police homicide enquiry report:

"That while issues of fact are more properly the domain of a jury, it is considered that no jury properly directed could, beyond reasonable doubt, find that Constable A shot Steven Wallace other than in self defence" (‘Steven James Wallace: Fatally Wounded at Waitara, Sunday 30 April 2000’, 16 August 2000).

"Issues of fact" are indeed more properly the domain of a jury; and a jury should have been given the opportunity to consider them.

What you can do

At this point in time, while the possibility of further legal proceedings remains (an application to the High Court to review the JPs decision, or an application for the High Court to issue an indictment directly in this matter) you could:

* Continue to challenge the way the mass media represents Steven’s death, and his family’s search for justice - it is not, as some daily papers have implied in the past, unreasonable to seek an adequate explanation for your son’s death. Focus on the immediate circumstances in which Steven was shot - the bizarre notions introduced in the depositions hearing by the defence lawyer Susan Hughes that Steven’s mother Raewyn was somehow responsible for his death, and that he was intent on committing ‘suicide by police’ are simply not relevant. What is relevant is the action taken by the police officers who confronted Steven that night.

Contact details: Christchurch Press, fax (03) 364 8492 ; Dominion, fax (04) 4740257; Evening Post, fax; (04) 474 0237; New Zealand Herald, fax (09) 373 6434 ; Sunday Star Times, fax (09) 309 0258; Press Association, fax (04) 473 7480; Radio New Zealand, fax (04) 473 0185; Listener, fax (09) 360 3831.

* Continue to support Steven’s family - send them a note of sympathy and support, let them know that you have not forgotten Steven and that they are not alone with their grief and their desire for justice. Post to the Wallace Whänau, 80 Broadway, Waitara 4320.

* Support the Steven Wallace Trust Fund for Justice - the fund was established to help with legal costs and expenses incurred by Steven’s family, and to campaign for possible changes to the law and to police procedures - any funds not required for these purposes will be placed in a permanent trust fund for the use of persons finding themselves victims of similar injustices. If you wish to make a contribution to the fund, please refer to the updated details on this page.

"This is not just a Waitara tragedy, it was a national tragedy and one we must never allow to occur again." (from the Wallace Whänau Committee statement, June 2000)

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