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Guilty man disputes facts about his attack on James Shaw

Report from RNZ
The man convicted of assaulting Green Party co-leader James Shaw reappeared in the Wellington District Court for a disputed facts hearing today.

In the dock, with his neatly-trimmed hair, white shirt and mild demeanour, the man looked like any middle-aged businessman – which was exactly what he was.

But this was also the man who admitted punching Green Party co-leader James Shaw repeatedly in the head early in the morning of March 14, as the MP strolled past the Botanic Garden on his way to work.

Paul Raymond Harris, 47, admitted the charge and was convicted in May.

However, he was back in the Wellington District Court today to dispute key aspects of Mr Shaw’s account, including the number of times he was hit and whether he was kicked.

The Wellington District Court was therefore treated to the rare sight of a Minister of the Crown on the witness stand.

After giving his name, and assuring the court that he was currently employed, Mr Shaw described how he was walking down Glenmore Street early that morning with his headphones on, when he became aware of someone calling “James”. He turned around to see a man coming up behind him.

The man said he wanted “a chat” and Mr Shaw removed his headphones, but he said it quickly became apparent the man was “not rational” and decided to keep walking. The man then blocked his way and grabbed his right lapel with his left hand.

“I held up my hand and said, ‘that’s assault, you need to take your hand off me’ but he kept talking, saying ‘You need to stop, you need to listen’ and that went on for a few iterations and then he punched me with his right hand.”

Mr Shaw said he was punched three or four times about the head while he was on his feet and the attack continued after he was pushed to the ground.

Harris’ lawyer, Marty Robinson, asked the MP whether it was possible he had “exaggerated” certain aspects of the attack due to his state of shock and heightened arousal. Mr Shaw however, said he was “pretty clear” about the sequence of events and he was definitely punched while standing.

The lawyer questioned how he could be sure he was kicked as he lay on the ground, since he was facing away from his attacker. Was it possible Harris could have been simply moving his foot, he asked.

Mr Shaw conceded he did not actually see the kick because he was facing away, but because of the force and angle, he believed it was a kick. “I think I can tell the difference between someone shifting their foot and landing a blow.”

Husband and wife Geoff and Rachel Ridley, who came to Mr Shaw’s aid when they saw him being attacked, told the court they saw Harris bent over Mr Shaw, hitting him repeatedly as he lay on the ground, curled in the foetal position. Neither of them saw him land a kick.

Harris told the court he was on Glenmore Street when he saw Mr Shaw and did a u-turn, parked his van and approached him. He said he was overcome with grief following his wife’s miscarriage two days previously and wanted to talk to the MP about his party’s stance on abortion.

“I went to confront him emotionally but it built up quickly and I’m at fault there.”

Harris said he never hit Mr Shaw while he was on his feet. He described tripping the MP over and punching him twice as he lay on the ground but then he stopped “because I knew I was going to hurt him”.

He denied kicking the MP. The steel-capped boots he was wearing for work at the time were confiscated by police.

Harris said he was walking back to his van when he realised he still had Mr Shaw’s glasses in his hand, so he came back and handed them over.

Judge Tuohy said the disputed fact in question was “unusual” because it was usually considered “more cowardly” to attack someone on the ground than to punch them standing up. But the relevant issue at stake was the number of blows, he said.

The judge said he accepted Mr Shaw’s version of events because he gave his evidence “calmly and with more certainty”.

“To put it bluntly – he would know, he would have known [when he was punched] because the blow that caused the damage to his eye socket must have been a strong blow and must have hurt him.”

He was also “satisfied” that Harris hit Mr Shaw more than twice while he lay on the ground, as witnessed by the Ridleys.

Judge Tuohy said Harris admitted to being angry and emotional during the assault, and so his recall of sequence of events in that situation could not be relied on. He said however, he was not satisfied there had been a kick.

Mr Shaw admitted he did not see the kick, nor did the Ridleys, and it was more likely to be a punch.

Harris’s lawyer, Marty Robinson, told the judge he would be seeking a restorative justice conference.

Harris will be sentenced on November 6.

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