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Home detention for NZ’s worst drink driver

A man once dubbed New Zealand’s “worst drink driver” has been sentenced to five months home detention at Masterton District Court after pleading guilty to four charges of driving while suspended.

It’s the latest in a string of convictions for Gavin Hawthorn [62] that date back to the 1970s and include manslaughter, drink driving, careless driving causing injury or harm, and assault, including family violence.

On December 30, 2022, Hawthorn, was found driving while suspended.

His licence had been revoked on medical grounds, doctors having decided “it was simply not safe to have you on our roads”, the court heard.

He was stopped again on March 14, 15, and 23 in 2023, while on bail for the December offence.

Hawthorn’s “appalling driving history” was referred to by Judge Barbara Morris during sentencing.

It includes the death of four people in two separate crashes in 1989 and 2003, both of which occurred in Greytown.

His 2004 conviction for the manslaughter of Lance Fryer in a high-speed crash earned Hawthorn a 10-year prison sentence.

He was released in 2013.

Hawthorn’s defence counsel, Andra Mobberley, told the court yesterday that a psychological assessment prepared for the defendant recommended “further diagnostic work” be undertaken.

However, a second neuropsychologist considered that Hawthorn’s case was “simply too complex”.

Hawthorn has been on 24-hour curfew for 40 weeks since June 23 last year, Mobberley explained, and in the care of a “long-term friend” who had “basically taken on the role of his carer.”

She assured the court that Hawthorn had not driven and did not have access to a car.

Police prosecutor Tom Scott acknowledged the defendant hadn’t gotten behind the wheel of a vehicle in nearly a year but said it was the preference of police that he receive a custodial sentence.

In determining the sentence, Morris noted Hawthorn’s early guilty plea, that he had accepted responsibility for his latest offences, and had not recently driven.

She also acknowledged “all the trauma and damage done to you when you were very young,” including abuse by his mother resulting in a brain injury, and uplift from the family home at a young age.

“You have used alcohol and drugs to cope with that past, and car accidents have added to your brain injury,” Morris said.

“I have taken into account all that background, including the psychological and cultural reports, and while it’s not an excuse, it is an explanation as to where you are,” she said.

Addressing the defendant in the dock, Morris asked Hawthorn whether he accepted “he could never drive again,” to which he answered, “Yes, your honour.”

In considering the nature of the sentence Hawthorn should receive, Morris acknowledged it was a “difficult issue”.

As well as taking Mobberley’s submissions into account, Morris also considered Hawthorn’s “many, many, many medical conditions”, including a potentially fatal blood clot, recent open-heart surgery, and “extreme” eczema requiring “one-hourly medication”.

Medical advice provided to the court indicated that the “already stretched” prison service “simply could not deal with your medical issues without making those conditions worse”.

Hawthorn’s five-month home detention sentence will commence today in Auckland.

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