Court martial: RNZN sailor accused of preying on three comrades during Canada deployment

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HMNZS Te Kaha and another frigate, HMNZS Te Mana, were deployed to Canada when the alleged offences happened. Photo / Peter Meecham

Claims of persistent, unwanted sexual advances surfaced at the trial of a sailor accused of preying on three comrades during an overseas Navy deployment.

The sailor, who has name suppression, denies two indecent assault charges and one of sexual violation.

Not guilty pleas were entered for him today at the Court Martial of New Zealand.

One comrade said the sailor grabbed her breast before telling her to pay a Canadian taxi fare and urinating in a doorway.

A second woman said she was dizzy from alcohol, trying not to vomit, when the accused man molested her in a hotel bed.

And a prosecutor said the sailor tried prising another woman’s legs open, also in a hotel.

The first complainant said a group of Royal New Zealand Navy members went out last year in Victoria, British Columbia.

“People just wanted to have a good time because we were stuck on ship,” she told the trial at Devonport Naval Base.

“Everyone was just eating, drinking, having good banter.”

She said the accused entered a taxi back to base with her and grabbed her breast.

She said the sailor rushed off and told her to pay the fare but then demanded she physically support him because he claimed to have an injury.

She said the last she saw of him that night, he needed to urinate.

“He ducked into the doorway to relieve himself.”

The sailor said the taxi incident left her shocked and confused.

“I didn’t want to make it a big deal at the time.”

She told the Court Martial she later confronted the accused, saying: “What you did last night wasn’t cool.”

But she said her comrade scoffed at her and denied grabbing her breast.

Victoria, in British Columbia, where Royal New Zealand Navy sailors were deployed last year. Photo / 123RF
Victoria, in British Columbia, where Royal New Zealand Navy sailors were deployed last year. Photo / 123RF

A second complainant said the man jumped into bed with her when she was drunk in a hotel room after a party.

“I’m facing away from him saying ‘Hop out, this can’t happen’ but I was also trying not to spew because I was so wasted.”

She said the accused had been lingering around her much of the night.

“I ended up rolling out of the bed onto the ground and took a pillow with me.”

She said the sailor promised to leave, but a few moments later returned.

He exposed his genitals, she said, and tried kissing her and touching her inside her shorts. She said he later seemed to apologise, but also downplayed his actions.

“I guess we live in a culture where that’s almost normalised.”

But she said people she confided in advised her to complain formally – and she learned the sailor was accused of sexual misconduct with another woman the same night.

Navy frigates HMNZS Te Mana and HMNZS Te Kaha were both in Canada at the time.

The court heard sailors were told last July the deployment would be extended to January.

Defence counsel John van der Zanden said sailors were told to “clear all lower decks” and assembled in the hangar for an announcement.

He said the deployment extension upset some sailors.

Van der Zanden said the first complainant could have told the taxi driver about any alleged assault, but did not.

“Whatever occurred or didn’t occur, the issue of consent is always important,” fellow defence counsel Paul Heaslip said.

He asked the second complainant if she’d ever had a relationship with the accused.

She said she’d slept with him a few years before, but it was never a relationship and his hotel room actions were unwanted.

“This is a case about a failure of comradeship,” prosecutor Captain Grace Blanks said.

All three alleged victims had been drinking and were vulnerable, she added.

“None of them, at any point, consented to the sexual activity.”

Blanks said the three all independently raised concerns about the sailor with friends.

“At the time each complainant disclosed it to a friend, none of them were aware that the other complainants had been assaulted.”

The trial before Judge Kevin Riordan and five military members continues.

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