Chase for costs in row over pooch

The New Zealand Herald - - Front Page - Melissa Nightin­gale

A fes­ter­ing dis­pute over a cop’s beloved pet chi­huahua sparked al­le­ga­tions of kid­nap­ping, a crim­i­nal theft charge and 14-month court­room drama.

And though po­lice aban­doned the charge when Lorena Brun­sell, 29, re­turned the dog to its des­per­ate own­ers, the bizarre saga is far from over, with the young woman now go­ing af­ter po­lice for costs.

The court­room an­tics were slammed by a judge as “verg­ing on a cor­rupt abuse of prose­cu­to­rial power,” court doc­u­ments re­veal.

But the dog’s own­ers, one of whom is a Welling­ton po­lice of­fi­cer, be­lieve the com­ments are un­fair and feel they’ve been de­nied jus­tice af­ter the or­deal, which left them wait­ing more than a year to be re­united with their el­derly pet.

Brun­sell was liv­ing with her then fi­ance in Up­per Hutt when the cou­ple split in May 2017 and she took the dog, court pa­pers show.

The own­ers were her fi­ance’s par­ents, po­lice of­fi­cer Stuart Main and his wife, Jenny Main.

They were on hol­i­day at the time and told the Her­ald their son was pet-sit­ting for them.

How­ever, Brun­sell ar­gued in court the dog had been given to her, a claim the own­ers have de­scribed as “ab­so­lute rub­bish”.

The theft charge was with­drawn in July 2018 when the dog, 14-yearold Gemma, was re­turned.

In a tran­script from a 2018 hear­ing pro­vided to the Her­ald by the Hutt Val­ley District Court, Judge Tim Black made scathing re­marks about the case, call­ing the pros­e­cu­tion “ap­palling” and “a com­plete

abuse of the court’s process and of the court’s time”.

“I mean, it is just in­cred­i­ble that what is ef­fec­tively a civil dis­pute about the own­er­ship of a dog has ended up the sub­ject of a pros­e­cu­tion,” the judge said.

“This should not have at­tracted crim­i­nal law pro­ceed­ings. It is com­pletely mis­con­ceived.”

Main, who stressed he was speak­ing to the Her­ald as a mem­ber of the public, not on be­half of the po­lice, said he made the com­plaint “as a cit­i­zen”.

He said the cou­ple bought Gemma, a beloved fam­ily pet, in 2003.

He gave Brun­sell sev­eral op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­turn the dog be­fore re­sort­ing to con­tact­ing po­lice, he said.

“The pur­pose of mak­ing the theft com­plaint was not to get her pros­e­cuted for theft.”

Main said he had sim­ply wanted his dog back — but said when of­fi­cers ar­rived at Brun­sell’s home in May 2017, Gemma was nowhere to be found.

What fol­lowed was 14 months of drawn-out court ap­pear­ances and ad­journ­ments, which fi­nally ended with pros­e­cu­tors with­draw­ing the charge and Brun­sell re­turn­ing the dog.

At a 2018 hear­ing, Judge Black told Brun­sell’s lawyer they might want to look into seek­ing money through the Costs in Crim­i­nal Cases Act fol­low­ing her pros­e­cu­tion by po­lice.

“If Joe Cit­i­zen turned up to the po­lice sta­tion and said, ‘I want to make a com­plaint about the theft of a chi­huahua’ they would be told to go to the Dis­putes Tri­bunal’,” the judge said. “It is just wrong.”

But Main, who works in the Welling­ton Mar­itime Unit, told the Her­ald he be­lieved the case was a “clear theft”. “There was no rea­son to be­lieve the dog was hers.”

Brun­sell’s lawyer, Clare Stan­ley, told the Her­ald the dog had been liv­ing with Brun­sell and her then fi­ance, and Brun­sell was “very at­tached” to her.

“When Lorena moved out, she took the dog with her. She was emo­tion­ally at­tached to the dog at a very vul­ner­a­ble time in her life and it was a com­fort to her.”

But Main said there was “no way in the world I’d ever give my dog to some­one”.

Jenny Main said the process was “like a kid­nap­ping”.

The cou­ple were in two minds about whether they would have liked to see the theft charge re­main af­ter the dog was re­turned.

“We don’t feel we’ve had jus­tice,” she said.

They also felt the judge’s com­ments sent a mes­sage that po­lice of­fi­cers could not press charges if they’d fallen vic­tim to a crime, for fear of be­ing seen as cor­rupt.

Stan­ley said Brun­sell was now seek­ing to have the po­lice pay to­wards her le­gal costs. A hear­ing is set down for March.

“The whole process was very stress­ful, ex­pen­sive and up­set­ting for Lorena,” Stan­ley said.

Hutt Val­ley Po­lice Area Com­man­der In­spec­tor Sean Hansen said the de­ci­sion to lay a charge was not the de­sired out­come, “and le­gal ad­vice was sought”.

Lorena Brun­sell has now re­turned 14-year-old chi­huahua Gemma, who she was ac­cused of steal­ing from her for­mer fi­ance’s par­ents.

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