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.

Taranaki Daily News - - Front Page -

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.

PHOTO: SI­MON O'CON­NOR/STUFF

Su­san Mouat was sen­tenced to 11 months home de­ten­tion.

Bruce Mouat was a keen moun­tain climber.

PHOTO: SI­MON O’CON­NOR/STUFF

Su­san Mouat

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