The couple who travelled from Auckland to Wānaka in breach of level 4 lockdown conditions — and then sought name suppression before they were even charged — outed themselves last night and said their decision “was completely irresponsible and inexcusable”.
William Willis, 35, whose mother is District Court Judge Mary-Beth Sharp, and lawyer Hannah Rawnsley, 26, issued an apology after declining to fight for further suppression.
“We are deeply sorry for our actions and would like to unreservedly apologise to the Wānaka community, and to all the people of Aotearoa New Zealand, for what we did,” they said in a statement.
“We can confirm that as part of routine testing for essential workers when crossing the Auckland border, we both received negative Covid-19 tests prior to undertaking the travel, and on our subsequent return to Auckland.
“We can also confirm we were not considered close contacts nor had we visited any locations of interest.
“We understand that strict compliance is required to stamp out Covid-19 from our country. We have let everyone down with our actions, and we wholeheartedly apologise.”
'I was appalled': Judge mother
Soon after the pair sent their apology to media, Willis’ mother Judge Sharp issued her own statement.
“I am a District Court Judge, but I issue this statement in my personal capacity. Like the rest of New Zealand, I was appalled to learn of my son William and his partner’s actions over the weekend.
“I was and am highly embarrassed. Had I known of their intentions …I would have told them not to act so thoughtlessly and selfishly. I do not condone their conduct.
“I understand that William and Hannah are no longer seeking suppression of their names. I support this decision.”
A spokesperson for the Office of the Chief District Court Judge said Judge Sharp advised the chief judge of the situation and she “was not involved in any way in relation to the actions of her son and his partner”.
“To avoid any potential conflict of interest, the Chief District Court Judge has put in place arrangements for a judge of the Wellington District Court to deal with any proceedings in relation to this matter,” the spokesperson said.
Police yet to charge couple
Police said the couple left Auckland on Thursday, September 9, using essential worker exemptions to cross the boundary and drive to Hamilton Airport.
They then took a commercial flight to Queenstown via Wellington and hired a car to drive to Wānaka, police said.
A tipster alerted police to the trip through the Covid-19 online compliance tool and the couple were approached on Saturday afternoon, police said.
The couple have since returned to Auckland. Auckland remains under alert level 4 — the most stringent Covid-19 lockdown — until at least next week, while the rest of New Zealand is in alert level 2.
Queenstown mayor Jim Boult said he had heard the Wanaka couple’s apology and they acknowledged they did a stupid thing, but they now needed to leave it to police to take it further.
“They put a community in danger – thank goodness we are now assured there is no ongoing danger and I just think now we should leave it to the police to take it forward.” Boult said there was a lot of hurt and anger out there and said warned them to stay away for a “fair old while”.
“I think I would put some distance between now and the next visit to Wanaka would be my best advice to them. Wanaka is a tight community and quite understandably people right across the district were really unhappy about this, he said.
“It will take a while to get over this.
The holiday home is jointly owned by Willis’ father Robert, barrister Tony Bouchier and his wife, District Court Judge Josephine Bouchier.
Bouchier told the Herald news that the couple had stayed there came as “a complete shock”.
“We had no idea … we are appalled as to what has happened and so that’s really all I can say.We had nothing to do with it.”
The couple’s lawyer, Rachael Reed QC, filed an emergency request for name suppression with the Papakura District Court on Monday after the story garnered widespread media interest, even though no charges had yet been filed against her clients.
“We initially sought name suppression after receiving death threats and we had genuine fear for our safety,” the couple explained in their statement.
“However, we remain committed to taking responsibility for our actions and will not be seeking further name suppression.”
During an after-hours teleconference on Monday evening with Wellington-based Judge Bruce Davidson, she was joined by a police representative and a lawyer representing NZME and other media.
A police officer has been assigned to the case but there might be a delay in filing charges or a first appearance for the couple due to court restrictions resulting from Auckland’s lockdown, police have indicated.
In a media release early on Monday afternoon, police said they are considering charges under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 and the Ministry of Health has been notified.
The allegations against the couple sparked widespread anger and frustration, including from the Prime Minister, police and officials in Wānaka.
Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult characterised the allegations as “extremely selfish” but said he is not concerned about any health impacts on the community after having spoken with government health officials.
“Everyone has been working hard …to do their bit to help stamp out Covid-19 and this highly infectious Delta strain,” he told the media on Monday. “It’s simply not acceptable that a handful of people continue to flout the restrictions.”
Asked about the matter on Monday at her daily Covid-19 press conference, Jacinda Ardern said she didn’t want to get into specifics of the case because it is still with police. But “everyone needs to play their part”, she said, adding that “the rules are not there to be gamed”.
“Aucklanders would take a very dim view of other Aucklanders who aren’t doing their bit.”
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