Update on the Autistic Christchurch Earthquake Looter: Police continue hardline, case to go to court

Christchurch Earthquake 22/02/11

Image by geoftheref via Flickr

You may remember my post from March this year, about the man with Aspergers who was caught looting in Christchurch after the major earthquake. He was made the “face of looting” at the time. His name is Cornelius Arie Smith-Voorkamp, though he is also referred to in some reports as “Arie Smith”. The police were taking a hard-line with all looters at the time; too hard perhaps considering it is alleged that the vigilante justice he received at the time of arrest was at the hands of the police:

Lawyer Simon Buckingham earlier said on the night of his arrest, Smith-Voorkamp was beaten by two officers and taunted by New Zealand Army personnel. At his first appearance in court, Smith-Voorkamp had a black eye.” (Link to NZ Herald story).

The police deny the claims, and point out that no official claim has been made about the assault. (Though probable reasons for that lack of official complaint, were already discussed back in March.)

There are also conflicting claims about whether the owners of the property that was burgled want to see the matter taken further. With the owner allegedly saying he doesn’t want the case to go ahead, and the police saying the owners are happy with how the police have handled the case so far.

Once it came to light that Smith-Voorkamp had Aspergers, and the direct impact this had on his crime (stealing light-fittings; he apparently has a compulsion to do so), the courts took a kindly approach towards him and recommended the police allow for diversion. The courts made this recommendation more than once, but the police have declined. The police state the following:

We have reviewed our decision against the diversion policy and we are confident we have been entirely consistent with it. One of the fundamental requirements of the diversion process is that the offender needs to be able to make an informed admission of guilt.” (Link to 3 News story)

Smith-Voorkamp has entered pleas of not-guilty. The decision to make those pleas, are based on the report of a forensic psychiatrist (see the extended discussion with the defence lawyer at Stuff.co.nz).

The police have decided instead to proceed with the case; taking a hard-line approach consistent with other looting cases from the same time period.

Smith-Voorkamp has one of Christchurch’s top lawyers defending him, and the charity Autism NZ is aware of and keeping an eye on the case, so he and his concerns are well represented. There are of course high financial and mental health costs involved with the case proceeding.

I will keep an eye on the case as it develops. The next update should be on (or before) the 28th of July.


Recent links, all from July 7th 2011. Note that all these written reports vary from each other, they do not all share the same information or focus, so if you’re interested in a full picture it’s worth having a look beyond one report:

TV3 News video, also 7th July 2011.

Gallery | This entry was posted in Reports of news stories on autism and the law and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Update on the Autistic Christchurch Earthquake Looter: Police continue hardline, case to go to court

  1. Jack says:

    Been watching it on TV, feel sorry for everyone involved. Cornelius looks lost, almost like he doesn’t know what going on. I seem to remember that you have some law background, whats your opinion of the owner not wanting to press charges, but the police continuing?

    • Hi Jack,

      My understanding is that the owners’ disinterest in having the case persued (though that appears disputed by the police at least), has no direct bearing on the case going to court; the police still have every right to take the case further. In itself, that’s fine, since otherwise public opinion and threats to victims could be used to stop a case going to court; I can easily imagine that the building owners feel pressure to have the whole thing go away.

      However, their attitudes and opinions about whether the case was worth persuing, could be relevant at the point of sentencing (if the case gets that far), because of their victim impact statements, that are taken into account by the judge.

      My background in law is that a do have a LLB (Hons), and I’ve tutored and lectured at law schools. Having said that, I only tutored criminal law once, and many years ago, so besides that experience and having sat the paper myself, there are going to be people out there who might know the answers to your question more confidently than I do (if someone reading this is such a person, please do share your opinion too, thanks.)

  2. Jack says:

    yes, I understand about the policing pursuing a case even if the ‘victim’ doesn’t want it to go to court. It just seems strange that they are going after this young man and are determined to send him to jail Also I thought I heard that cause he is pleading ‘not guilty’ they can offer diversion.

    • I think you meant “can’t” there, rather than “can” (typo maybe?) The police have policies about who they offer diversion to, including requiring an “informed admission of guilt”. Because of his mental state, he arguably isn’t guilty, nor able to make an informed admission to that effect, so they claim they’re just following their own policies. It is policy though, rather than law (as I understand it), otherwise I do not see how the judge could have suggested more than once that the police offer diversion on the facts (?). The police can surely choose to deviate from policy under extraordinary or compassionate circumstances.

      According to this link: http://www.police.govt.nz/service/diversion/ , “The Police Adult Diversion Scheme is a scheme that allows for some offenders who have been charged to be dealt with in an ‘out of court’ way. If the offender completes agreed conditions, the Prosecutor can seek to have the charge withdrawn and a conviction will not be recorded.” The same link provides a further link to their “policy”: http://www.police.govt.nz/sites/default/files/diversion_policy_2011.pdf . I just spotted a relevant quote within that file: “Note that a guilty plea (either entered or intimated) in court must not be a prerequisite nor a bar for diversion.” Isn’t that interesting! I’m tempted to look into this matter further (as time allows).

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