A Wairarapa judge has found National leader Simon Bridge’s deputy chief of staff, Belinda Milnes, not guilty of common assault following a judge-alone trial in the Masterton District Court on Wednesday morning.
Milnes, 50, had earlier pleaded not guilty to one charge of common assault, while a willful trespass charge was withdrawn by police before the trial got underway.
The charges related to an incident on February 15 near Carterton, when Milnes went to drop off her daughter with her ex-husband, David Ware.
Prosecutor Ella Scown told the court Milnes’ keys were later confiscated as Ware believed she had been drinking.
During an argument demanding her keys be returned, Milnes “charged” the female complainant.
Though no contact was made between Milnes and the complainant, the incident resulted in a technical charge of common assault being laid relating to intent to assault.
Milnes was found later to have a breath-alcohol level of 298 micrograms per litre of breath [mcg] – above the legal limit of 250 mcg, but below the criminal threshold. It resulted in an infringement notice.
Her lawyer Philip Mitchell said, “walking forcefully” towards the complainant, as described in Ware’s own testimony, did not amount to a threatening gesture.
“There was no physical contact,” he said. “There were no threats or physical gestures which showed intent to assault.”
Judge Bruce Davidson said the incident occurred in the context of a “bitter and acrimonious” separation — both parties had issued trespass infringements against each other.
Acknowledging the difficult circumstances and context, he said the incident “reflected quite poorly” on all concerned.
“What the defendant did, was really aggressive, bad behaviour, preluded however, by other aggressive and bad behaviour [from Ware],” he said.
To have found Milnes guilty, Judge Davidson said he would have had to reject her testimony and could not see a legitimate or sound reason to do so.
“Each tribe have put their own spin on what occurred.
“I don’t believe this is a case where any of the three witnesses have deliberately lied.”
Following the sentencing, Milnes said she was relieved with the outcome but was disappointed the case had gone to court and that it had taken nine months to be heard.
“There are so many family lawyers doing righteous work for women and children in critical risk situations who can’t get court time to have their matters heard,” she said.
Milnes said the coverage of the case had been distressing for her family and felt it was only covered because of her prominent political roles.
“No media would be interested in this so-called story if I didn’t work for a political party.
“But there is an even worse double standard at play here. Other — male — political staffers have allegedly sexually assaulted multiple young women but their identity has been protected,” she said.
Milnes is running for positions on the Masterton Community Trust, Masterton Trust Lands Trust and the Monfort Trimble Foundation.