Brawl in court at shooting-related appearance

A huge brawl erupted in Christchurch’s main court as men rushed the dock where a 35-year-old had admitted charges relating to the fatal shooting of a King Cobra gang member at Charing Cross.

Chairs went flying as a man leapt across the lawyers’ tables and tried to attack Daniel Gary French.

That man ended up perched on the top of the glass partition surrounding the dock before police and security officers brought him down onto the floor near the front of the No 8 Court, about four metres from where Judge David Saunders was sitting.

Police, court escort, and Court Security Officers were involved in that struggle as well putting a second man on the floor when he reached the area just behind the dock.

A third man was ordered down on the floor behind where the lawyers were seated and lay quietly and stayed out of the fight.

Two men were arrested and the third who did not resist was ordered out of the Justice Precinct. The two men arrested were wearing red – a gang colour.

Judge Saunders halted the court while the men were bundled out to the cells and the full courtroom settled down again.

At least 10 police and security staff had been positioned in the court before the brawl broke out.

“Let’s start tidying up people,” said police prosecutor Sergeant Paul Scott. “We’ve got work to do.”

Defence counsel Elizabeth Bulger said name suppression lapsed for French who has had it since his arrest last month.

Without bringing him back into court, Judge Saunders remanded French in custody for sentencing on January 30. He ruled out any possibility of a home detention sentence by not ordering the necessary report.

The judge also checked with the police that French was being held separately in the cells from the two men who had been arrested. He was told that had been arranged, and the men would be appearing in court later.

Another man, who still has name suppression, has been charged with the murder of Luke Sears, who is also known as Luke Riddell, aged 28. He was shot dead in front of his girlfriend on Grange Road, Charing Cross, Selwyn on October 13. He is remanded in custody to appear in the High Court on February 5.

French was arrested a few days after the shooting on charges of unlawful possession of two firearms and ammunition. He had been held in custody until he appeared today on further charges of cultivating cannabis, theft, and selling cannabis. He pleaded guilty to all six charges just before the struggle broke out in court.

The police said that between October 2016 and October 2018, French had sold a large amount of cannabis plant to Luke Sears from a cannabis growing operation on a property at Telegraph Road, Charing Cross.

The police said French told them that he had been placed in a difficult financial position because a business customer owed him a large amount of money. He started growing cannabis to make some money.

He met Sears, who was keen to buy cannabis, through an associate. He said Sears owed him $60,000.

On the day of the shooting, French was driving a vehicle on Grange Road. Inside the Toyota vehicle was a sawn-off shotgun which was in the possession of French and an associate.

A second shotgun and cartridges were in a second vehicle at French’s home.

French does not hold a firearms licence and police said he had no lawful purpose for having any firearms or ammunition.

Police said they executed a search warrant at the Telegraph Road property in December 2009 and prosecuted the occupier at that time for growing cannabis in a 6m shipping container buried in the gravel floor of a shed.

The Selwyn District Council cut the top off the container and filled it with dirt.

French then leased the shed in 2015. He removed the container from the ground and buried two 6m containers in the shed. He created rooms underground, and installed a third container with a manhole for access to the underground area. He then began growing cannabis.

As part of the homicide investigation, police got a warrant and searched the property where they found 63 cannabis plants growing underground, with watering and lighting systems. A drying room for the cannabis was found, with 1.4kg of cannabis hanging from string and coat hangers.

French had bypassed the power meter and was not paying for the power to grow the cannabis.

“This was a sophisticated and well executed cannabis operation with an extremely well organised and planned theft of power,” the police said.

French said he had been growing cannabis there for about 15 months, but police believe the period was longer because of satellite images showing the removal and installation of the containers.

Afternoon update:

In the afternoon, Marcus Moagutuuli, a 26-year-old Burnside contractor, was brought back into court on charges of assaulting French and resisting a police officer.

Judge Saunders said it had been the worst case he had seen in 25 years as a judge of interrupting the court, and jailed Moagutuuli for three months for contempt of court – the maximum sentence.

He said he had witnessed a determined attempt to get to French and the offender had wilfully interrupted the court proceedings.

Defence counsel Kirsty May said Moagutuuli apologised for the incident, and explained that “his emotions got the better of him”.

The judge remanded Moagutuuli in custody to December 7, without plea on the charges.