Coroner rules on Dudley’s death

The Coroner has ruled that the assault on schoolboy Stephen Dudley was the most significant factor in his death. It had already been found that Dudley also had an undiagnosed heart condition that was also a factor.

NZ Herald: Exclusive: Fatal assault – Stephen Dudley’s family want manslaughter prosecution after inquest findings

The family of a schoolboy who died after a violent assault at rugby training is calling for a manslaughter charge to be laid after the Coroner ruled the actions of another teen was “the most significant factor” in his death.

Stephen Eruwera Dudley died on June 6, 2013 after he was punched repeatedly by two teenage brothers at a West Auckland rugby field.

KEY POINTS

  • Stephen Dudley died after a an assault at rugby practice in 2013
  • Two teens were charged with manslaughter
  • The charge was lessened to assault after an undiagnosed heart condition was revealed
  • Coroner Gordon Matenga said one of the teen’s punches directly led to Stephen’s death
  • The Dudley family are calling for new charges following the Coroner’s findings

The brothers were initially charged with manslaughter.

But after medical examinations revealed an undiagnosed heart condition, the Crown withdrew the charge – saying it could not be determined whether the assault contributed to Stephen’s death.

In 2014 the brothers pleaded guilty to assaulting Stephen and were discharged without conviction and granted name permanent suppression.

Last year, just after third anniversary of Stephen’s death Coroner Gordon Matenga held an inquest.

Today he released his report, and found that while Stephen may have had an underlying heart condition, his death was the direct result of “stress associated with physical assault”.

Even though Dudley had a problem with his heart he would have lived longer if he hadn’t been attacked and beaten.

There has to be consequences for those who viscously attack others unprovoked, especially if the victim dies.

A clear legal message has to be strongly made that thuggery is both unacceptable and potentially very dangerous.

Brent Dudley said his son was seen by witnesses laughing and joking as he left rugby practice.

It wasn’t until he was “coward punched” that his health fatally deteriorated.

“We are happy that the Coroner saw it the same way that we do.”

The couple said they “strongly believe” the teenager who delivered the fatal blow needed to be held to account.

“We feel, strongly, that he has a case to answer,” Brent Dudley said.

I agree.

Solutions to violence and alcohol

Further to Drunken thuggery not alcohol’s fault  anthropologist Anne Fox makes some suggestions about how to address a culture of alcohol related violence in New Zealand.

Fox’s paper includes a raft of recommendations.

The first is that we should stop focusing on “alcohol-fuelled violence” and address what she calls cultural reinforcers of violence, such as aggressive masculinity.

A cultural shift can be achieved, she says, by recognising that individuals are in control of their own behaviour and should face consequences, such as social stigma and heavy penalties, for transgressions.

Fox also suggests we should de-emphasise consumption of alcohol for its own sake and refocus on entertainment and group conviviality. She urges better drinking environments, with higher ratios of females (both staff and patrons), a wider range of ages (violence is less likely in mixed-age groups) and a clear message that bad behaviour will not be tolerated. She was alarmed at the number of bars and clubs in New Zealand and Australia that served people who were clearly drunk.

She is also an advocate of consistent, visible policing (she found that police are more effective on foot than in patrol cars) and clear penalties for bad behaviour.

In the New South Wales city of Newcastle, Fox notes, police show little tolerance for bad behaviour and young people are well aware that infringements, such as sexual harassment or urinating in public, will earn them a heavy and immediate fine.

Safe, well-managed 24-hour food outlets are important too, she says, as is adequate transport out of the entertainment districts of large cities.

Fox suggests that even language can be used to change harmful concepts of masculinity and to indicate social disapproval of violent behaviour. In Australia the term “king hit”, meaning a powerful blow delivered without warning, has been rebranded in the media as the “coward’s punch” following a series of highly publicised king hit-related deaths and injuries. The long-term effectiveness of this change in terminology has yet to be measured but Fox calls it a step in the right direction.

She is especially emphatic about the need for better alcohol education. Young New Zealanders and Australians appear to know very little of the basic facts about alcohol, she says. Effective programmes should offer a balanced portrayal of both the negative and positive aspects of consumption and provide unbiased information about alcohol’s real effects.

Scare tactics don’t work and can even be counter-productive, she insists. “The element of risk is, for many young people, an added attraction to drug-taking or binge drinking.”

Establishing a culture that uses peer pressure to oppose and condemn all violence including attempts to use alcohol as an excuse for thuggish behaviour can be done.

We managed to change the New Zealand culture on drink driving where it is now seen as unacceptable by most people and frowned on socially, because it was a serious risk to the safety of innocent people.

Person perpetrated violence via fists and boots isn’t much different to person perpetrated violence via vehicle, except that those who use fists and boots do so very deliberately. We should be more appalled and more determined to change our culture around alcohol and violence.

Most of us already abhor violence in most situations. But we can do more to speak up against it to make it clear that whether using alcohol as an excuse or not thuggery is socially unacceptable in New Zealand.

So seeing a blog describing itself New Zealand’s biggest and best make excuses for socially abhorrent behaviour – see Victim blaming and excusing thuggery – is very disappointing.