North Canterbury man criticised over sexual encounters

May 22, 2017 | By More

A judge has criticised the actions of a North Canterbury businessman, but has acquitted him of two charges alleging the sexual violation of an intellectually disabled man.

Christchurch District Court Judge Tom Gilbert said he had “considerable reservations” about the actions of Stephen John Preest, 56.

After the sexual activity – two brief instances of oral sex on a younger man – Mr Preest texted an apology saying that his actions had been “at the very best wrong and inappropriate and I crossed a line”.

As he gave his verdict at the end of a week-long judge-alone trial, Judge Gilbert said: “These are his own words and his actions do him no credit.”

Mr Preest operates a hovercraft business in North Canterbury.

The trial was told that the complainant was significantly intellectually impaired, a factor that Mr Preest did not accept. A psychologist told the court that the alleged victim would not have perceived “subtle sexual advances”. He tended to “freeze with anxiety” in unfamiliar or stressful situations.

Mr Preest acknowledged that the two sexual encounters took place two years ago, but he said he believed the other man was consenting.

The judge said the complainant and his family were “unimpeachably honest” and the trial was not about the man’s veracity, but his reliability. The defence said that his evidential interview – played at trial – had been affected by repeated discussions with his family.

Judge Gilbert said he was left being unable to exclude the possibility that Mr Preest, or any reasonable person placed in his situation, could have reasonably believed there was consent.

However, he said Mr Preest’s actions were “at the cusp”. He said: “The benefit of my ambivalence must fall to Mr Preest”.

He dismissed both charges, and thanked defence counsel Richard Maze and Crown prosecutor Nicola Pointer for their conduct of a very difficult trial. Judge Gilbert completed hearing evidence last week, and reserved his verdict until today.

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