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Gay bashers: Unsuspecting men lured on dating apps to parks and brutally attacked by youths

Sam Sherwood,
Publish Date
Wed, 28 Feb 2024, 2:57PM
Kelly Hopkins was one of 10 people attacked by the group. Photo / George Heard
Kelly Hopkins was one of 10 people attacked by the group. Photo / George Heard

Gay bashers: Unsuspecting men lured on dating apps to parks and brutally attacked by youths

Sam Sherwood,
Publish Date
Wed, 28 Feb 2024, 2:57PM

Five youths have today been sentenced for a series of unprovoked attacks on gay men across Christchurch, filming the assaults. Herald senior crime reporter Sam Sherwood speaks to one of the victims about the night he thought he was going to die.

It seemed innocent enough at first. It was late on April 17 last year and Kelly Hopkins was at his home in Christchurch chatting with a man on Grindr, a dating app popular with gay men.

The man said he wanted to meet Hopkins at a park in Avonhead.

“It wasn’t that unusual because you would generally meet somewhere public and it was late at night,” Hopkins recalls.

Hopkins, who doesn’t drive, got an Uber to the park. Once outside he messaged the man asking him to come out on to the street.

“He was quite insistent I go into the park which I felt was a bit dodgy.”

He told the man he wasn’t going to go into the park, and the man gave him an address for a house nearby where he said he lived.

Hopkins then got a Lime bike and went to the address thinking if something did go wrong he could just bike off.

Once he got down to the end of the street he saw someone shining what appeared to be a torch.

“He said ‘are you the guy from Grindr’ and I said yes and he said ‘my house is just over here follow me’ and he just went to like half turnaround and I said no, I’m just going to go.

Kelly Hopkins was one of 10 people attacked by the group. Photo / George Heard
Kelly Hopkins was one of 10 people attacked by the group. Photo / George Heard

“I turned around on the bike and he yelled something out and all these figures in black just came at me out of the dark.”

Hopkins isn’t sure exactly how many people there were but thinks it might have been about eight.

“I just took off down the street and I actually came off the bike and that’s when they got on me and beat the s*** out of me.

“I thought I was going to die…. I thought they were going to kill me.”

The group kicked and punched Hopkins while he was on the ground, not saying anything to him.

“I was yelling help me, call the police. I was screaming bloody murder… I was screaming for my life. People in the houses around started to yell out and one of them turned on their lights but nobody came outside.

The last thing he could remember from the attack was a rock hitting him in the head before the group fled.

Once the offenders fled, Hopkins yelled out for someone to bring him a torch so he could try to find his phone in the dark.

After waiting to see if someone would come, he decided to get back on the bike and head home, worried the offenders might come back.

“I biked all the way back into the city, it was about 45 minutes. They’d broken my glasses so I couldn’t really see anything and it was about 1am.

“Every car that came I thought was them coming after me.”

Once he got home he made an online police report and called a friend who came and helped clean him up and put a bandage on his head. A few hours later he went with a colleague to the scene and found his phone “smashed to pieces”.

Kelly Hopkins says it was 'horrific' to learn the attack on him was filmed. Photo / George Heard
Kelly Hopkins says it was 'horrific' to learn the attack on him was filmed. Photo / George Heard

He also spoke to police about the ordeal and worked from home with his colleagues told he’d had a scooter accident.

That evening he went to the afterhours clinic to get looked at.

“I had an abrasion on my elbows and knees and a massive gash on my head, but I didn’t know at the time because I was still so in shock but I also had bruised ribs… I couldn’t twist or turn or sit down properly for days.”

As the days turned into weeks Hopkins tried putting it all behind him and moving on with life.

“I tried to pretend it didn’t happen.”

About six weeks after the incident he got a call from police asking if he could come in to make a formal statement. Two weeks later he got another call from police to say they were looking at some suspects they had brought in following another incident.

“[Police] said they’d found videos on their phones and that’s how they’d found these guys.”

Hopkins says police told him the groups had filmed several assaults and uploaded them to a private group.

He says it was “horrific” to find out his ordeal had been filmed.

‘Extremely serious offending’

On Wednesday, five youths were sentenced in the Christchurch Youth Court by Judge Quentin Hix.

The sentencing began with two of the victims reading their victim impact statements.

The first of the two men, who was 32 at the time, told the court how he suffered “severe trauma” to his face as a result of the offending.

His cellphone was never recovered, and he had to pay an excess of $500.

“This offending caused me a lot of physical pain, but psychologically the pain is ongoing.”

He hardly uses the app now, he shelters himself away at home.

When he puts the bins out at night he fears he will be attacked and has regular flashbacks of the offending.

His pants were pulled down with his genitals exposed on film.

He found it “too painful” to talk about what happened with a health professional and fears he has PTSD.

The man said he now hid his sexuality in fear of being beaten.

“It’s so upsetting to be dehumanised, treated like an object.”

The second man said the impact of the attack continued today physically and emotionally and he had not told his family what had happened.

He was scared of anyone wearing hoodies on the street and no longer felt safe forcing him to move several times since the incident.

Judge Hix thanked both men for reading their statements in court.

He said the catalyst for the offending appeared to come from social media videos depicting violence against people in the United States.

“The group has decided to engage in copycat offending.”

He described the offending, involving 10 attacks between March and June last year, as “extremely serious”. Not all of the youths in court were involved in all of the offending.

The victims were “lured” to areas late at night and then attacked by members of the group.

One of the victims had arranged to meet someone at a park. Once he arrived he was punched and kicked and called a paedophile as the group demanded his money and phone. Footage of the incident was shared on social media.

Judge Hix said there were several key factors in dealing with the offending including the group nature of it, the premeditation, the seriousness of the violence and that it was recorded.

He said from reading the paperwork it appeared the offending was related to a social media influence and some form of “vigilante action”.

Other evidence indicated the motive was in relation to money. He said there was no proof that the victims’ sexual orientation was a motivation for the group.

At the beginning of sentencing crown prosecutor Penny Crown said the 10 attacks were “extremely violent” on vulnerable people between March and May last year.

“Not only were they premeditated and repeated, they were filmed and the attacks shared on social media.”

Each of the five young men was sentenced one at a time.

Two of the youths were given six months of supervision and 150 hours community work.

Three other youths were given six-month informal plans and 50 hours of community work.

The last of the youths to be sentenced read out a letter of apology saying he had “an extreme sense of remorse for my actions.

“I apologise for the harm I’ve caused, I deeply regret my involvement.”

‘I don’t trust anybody’

Nearly a year after he was attacked, Hopkins says he’s lost all of his enjoyment in life and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“If I hear the sound of a group of people behind me it freaks me out. I’m conscious I don’t know who some of these offenders are. I find it really hard to sleep, I don’t really trust anybody or anything now.”

The 48-year-old still can’t believe it happened to him.

“To think we’ve made progress in so many ways as a society and as a world and then this kind of thing still happens.”

He hopes that with today’s sentencing now over that he might be able to regain some control of his life.

“I’d just like to be able to put it all behind me. I’d like to go back to my life.”

Sam Sherwood is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers crime. He is a senior journalist who joined the Herald in 2022, and has worked as a journalist for 10 years.

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