A man with a history of petrol-related violence has been found guilty of dousing two police officers in the fluid despite a “woefully inadequate investigation” by police.
Hamilton man Richard Greenland had already poured petrol on himself before running towards two attending officers with a petrol can above his head and throwing it at them, as a fire burned near them.
The 41-year-old engineer had defended charges in a Judge Alone Trial and while the judge cleared him of two of the four assault with a weapon charges, she found him guilty of the remaining two after delivering her reserved decision in the Hamilton District Court on Friday.
In giving evidence at trial, Greenland argued that he wasn’t using a petrol can as a weapon on the evening of November 14, 2022 - he was having to shake it more aggressively as the can emptied.
While Judge Kim Saunders didn’t accept all of his evidence, she found she couldn’t reject all of it, and so had to find him not guilty.
As for the two throwing petrol at police charges, Greenland maintained it “didn’t happen”.
But the judge found that “implausible in the circumstances that the evidence tells me you found yourself in”.
“Each officer said you used petrol as a weapon and they could smell and feel it,” the judge said.
As well as the circumstances from 2022, the judge was also able to take into account Greenland’s relevant criminal history which included a conviction from February 2021 of pouring petrol on his former partner after finding her in the company of another man.
Aggrieved, Greenland stood there repeatedly flicking his lighter on and off, telling her he would “disfigure her”.
He also had convictions from 2013 after lighting a modified fire extinguisher and threatening to use it against attending police officers.
The Crown argued his history established he had a tendency to throw petrol at someone.
In his latest case, Greenland fought the charges and got his former partner also to give evidence in his defence, backing up his claim that he was “giving up” and walked through the smoke with his hands in the air.
His counsel Stephen Taylor submitted his client’s previous history did little to substantiate the new charges.
Judge Saunders found the Crown case rested “very much” on the constables’ evidence, including two other officers who were at the scene that day.
However, while that was not itself unusual, she was left unimpressed by the lack of evidence gathered from the scene and said that was due to no officer taking charge of the file and ordering it be investigated any further.
“No one took pictures of the scene, the house, the back yard, nobody photographed the remnants of the fire, nobody photographed the petrol can that you used that night... no forensic evidence of any sort.
“In short, this was a woefully inadequate police investigation.”
She had testimony from the four police officers who attended that day.
One said when they arrived, Greenland had already covered himself in petrol and was flinging the petrol can towards both himself and the officers.
“You kept going off on a tangent, saying things like ‘you were a human torch’,” the judge said.
Another officer said Greenland was pacing back and forth behind the fire when he poured petrol over his head.
As for when Greenland poured petrol on the officers, one recalled Greenland running towards them with the can above his shoulder and as he approached one of the policeman, he shook the petrol tin, soaking them both in petrol.
At the same time, an officer managed to use his pepper spray on Greenland.
As for determining his guilt, she found the officers were blocking him from entering the house and he did see them as threats.
“The propensity evidence establishes a tendency on your part to do just that, throw petrol at someone in anger.”
Greenland was convicted on the two charges and remanded on bail for sentencing in April.
Belinda Feek is an Open Justice reporter based in Waikato. She has worked at NZME for eight years and been a journalist for 19.
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