From push to conviction
Bruce Mouat died after being pushed off a porch by his wife, Susan Mouat, but she wasn’t charged with manslaughter until five years later. David Burroughs looks into how things played out that night and in the years that followed.
On the night of his death, Bruce Mouat walked out of a Taranaki liquor store with four boxes of beer and a few bottles of wine under his arm.
The 48-year-old and his wife Susan were described by some as heavy drinkers, to the point where they had a pact between themselves to not imbibe.
There was also an extensive history of conflict between the pair, with Susan racking up 17 convictions between 1988 and 2011, mostly for violence and threats against Bruce.
He had even taken out a protection order against her three years before they were married in 2009.
But on the night of July 15, 2011, the drinks weren’t all for Bruce.
He was in charge of planning a function that evening at the
Ha¯ wera RSA for the members of Fonterra’s emergency response team, a specialised group he led.
Bruce was no stranger to being the organiser of events in the community and was in charge of the Egmont Alpine Club’s annual open climb of Mt Taranaki.
He was also the club’s immediate past president and the leader of the Taranaki Alpine and Cliff Rescue (TACR) team.
Bruce headed to the RSA Hall in Ha¯ wera to get it set up for the function before going to the bar at the RSA with a few of the other guests, where he drank a handle of Speight’s.
As other guests began to arrive he went back into the hall and, after dinner was served, delivered one of the evening’s two speeches.
‘‘It does not seem that he was particularly affected by alcohol at this time,’’ coroner Tim Scott noted in his 2012 findings into Mouat’s death.
Four years later, Susan Mouat’s confession partly invalidated those findings but the investigation still
gives some insight into the events leading up to and succeeding the death.
Bruce continued to drink over the course of the night and at one stage got into a verbal argument with another person attending the dinner.
‘‘Bruce became really angry, red in the face and began slurring his words,’’ Scott’s findings said.
It was that argument that made four people decide it was time for Bruce to go home and, sometime between midnight and 12:30am on July 16, two women drove him back to his house in Ha¯ wera and one of them helped him up the steps to the door.
As she hopped back in the car, her friend asked why she hadn’t rung the bell. The answer was that she ‘‘was scared of Bruce’s wife, Susan’’.
It was a rocky relationship between Bruce and Susan and it was their history of domestic violence issues that prompted police to advise the coroner that a post-mortem needed to be carried out.
Susan herself admitted the relationship had been tough and the couple had used black humour as ‘‘a form of coping mechanism’’ to maintain it.
The night of Bruce’s death, Susan had stayed home from the party and she told Scott she woke around 1:15am to the sound of women’s voices in the driveway.
Her original story was that she had lain in bed, knowing Bruce would be drunk, before heading downstairs to let him in.
What happened next wasn’t conclusively known for five years.
Susan had said she took the keys off him and they continued to argue before using ‘‘colourful language’’ to tell him to leave.
The original police investigation and coroner’s report both found Susan had headed back to bed after the argument, while Bruce had stumbled and fallen down five steps, hitting his head on a concrete paver on the ground.
But rumour and suspicions lingered among Bruce’s family and the wider community, especially after Susan hugged her sister-in-law at the funeral and asked her ‘‘how does it feel to hug a murderer?’’.
Scott couldn’t imagine why someone would make a comment like that and said it showed ‘‘a deplorable lack of tact and consideration for Bruce’s family and other people attending the funeral’’.
It was ‘‘a crazy piece of selfincrimination’’ and he theorised that it might have been the guilt she felt for not looking after Bruce properly by helping him to bed that night.
‘‘Perhaps she might have thought that this was ‘murder’ by proxy – I am not sure,’’ he said.
But it wasn’t by proxy and Bruce hadn’t simply fallen down the stairs.
Instead of being wrapped up in bed when Bruce hit his head like she had originally told everyone, Susan had been standing on the porch her husband had just fallen off after she pushed him.
That was the secret Susan carried with her for five years.
She gave two statements to police in 2011, answered questions from Scott for his findings and was again interviewed by police in Napier in August 2016, each time maintaining her innocence.
But the secret couldn’t stay hidden forever and two months later, on October 19, 2016, she admitted pushing Mouat and causing his death.
Two paragraphs in the four page summary of facts outline what really happened after the argument.
‘‘The deceased attempted to push his way back into the house but the defendant pushed him away,’’ it said.
‘‘The deceased fell backwards off the porch striking his head on a concrete paver.’’
The summary of facts doesn’t outline what it was that prompted Susan to come forward or why she finally decided to confess but New Plymouth Detective Mike Thorne, who travelled to Hastings with Detective Guy Jackson for the final interview, said something had piqued her conscience.
Jackson, the officer in charge of the case, had been investigating as new information came to light and Thorne said they travelled over to the East Coast after receiving another tip-off.
‘‘Other information became available from another government department that led us to go there and, as you know, we got the result that we needed.’’
It was during that interview that Susan finally revealed what had really happened.
‘‘It got the better of her to be honest and as a result she made the admission to Detective Jackson on DVD,’’ Thorne said.
‘‘And as a result of that she was charged with the manslaughter of Bruce Mouat.’’
Susan first appeared on that charge in October 2016, but the next month she pleaded not guilty and it wasn’t until a year later, when her trial was due to start, that Susan changed her plea to guilty and officially admitted what she had done. Thorne said it was a ‘‘preventable death’’, but getting the conviction after six years showed that persistence paid off.
Susan Mouat was sentenced to 11 months home detention.
Bruce Mouat was a keen mountain climber.