Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Lockdown flouting couple 'have paid heavy price', Deputy Mayor says

Otago Daily Times,
Publish Date
Wed, 22 Dec 2021, 11:40AM
William Willis and Hannah Rawnsley. Photo / NZME
William Willis and Hannah Rawnsley. Photo / NZME

Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Lockdown flouting couple 'have paid heavy price', Deputy Mayor says

Otago Daily Times,
Publish Date
Wed, 22 Dec 2021, 11:40AM

The couple who left Auckland's Covid-19 lockdown for a holiday home in Wanaka have already paid a heavy price for their transgression, Queenstown Lakes Deputy Mayor Calum MacLeod says. 

MacLeod said he hoped equestrian William Willis and lawyer Hannah Rawnsley, who were sentenced in the Papakura District Court yesterday, would come back to Wanaka and do some good. 

''Hopefully they'll pay the fines, and with a stroke of luck, come down and invest heavily in Kahu Youth or something.'' 

Kahu Youth is a charitable trust in Wanaka that runs programmes and events for the town's young people. 

The pillorying the pair had received in the media and online was worse than any court outcome, he said. 

''As someone who's been on the receiving end of public opinion, it's a fickle mistress. I dare say there are other people who have done it since who probably have flown under the radar.'' 

He thought most Wanaka residents had got over their initial indignation. 

Willis, 36, was convicted and ordered to pay a fine of $750 by Judge Bruce Davidson yesterday. 

Rawnsley, 26, was granted a discharge without conviction, and ordered give $500 to a charity working with vulnerable people. 

The pair had earlier pleaded guilty as they sat side-by-side, appearing by audiovisual link. 

They were charged on September 22 with failing to comply with a Covid-19 health order, which carries a maximum sentence of up to six months' prison and a $4000 fine. 

Queenstown property developer Min Yang, 42, was earlier this month fined $1000 for flying from Auckland, an alert level 4 area, to Christchurch, an alert level 2 area, on September 2. 

Rawnsley wiped away tears as Judge Davidson approved her discharge application, The New Zealand Herald reported. 

''I simply fail to see how courts can be in the business of destroying employment prospects,'' he said. 

Police first approached Willis and Rawnsley in Wanaka on the afternoon of Saturday, September 11, after receiving a tip through the Covid-19 online compliance tool a day earlier. 

The two were allowed to leave Auckland for Hamilton, despite the strict lockdown, because of their essential worker status. 

They did so on Thursday, September 9. 

They were not, however, permitted under the lockdown rules to then take a commercial flight to Queenstown and continue on in a hired car to Wanaka, authorities have said. 

Prosecutor Natalie Walker argued during the hearing that the couple's actions were carefully planned, the first ticket booked within hours of an announcement that Auckland would stay in lockdown but the rest of New Zealand would move to level 2. 

She pointed to a text message Willis sent to an associate after learning police had been to his Auckland home. 

''They came looking for me at the farm,'' he wrote. ''Someone has narced.'' 

She suggested a starting point of two months' prison was appropriate, but after taking into consideration factors such as remorse and their guilty pleas, an end sentence of community service would suffice. 

Counsel Rachael Reed QC told the judge yesterday the pair's remorse ''has not changed one iota''. 

''They will regret making this trip for the rest of their lives.'' 

But Reed also took aim at people who had lashed out at her clients on social media, sending messages and physical threats, she said, not only to the couple but to their families and Rawnsley's former employer. 

The couple initially fought to keep secret their names, as well as the fact Willis is the son of District Court Judge Mary-Beth Sharp. 

The couple were initially set to appear in court in person for yesterday's hearing. 

But in a minute released last week citing red traffic light protocols, Judge Davidson said he would allow Willis and Rawnsley to appear via audiovisual feed. 

Prosecutors and counsel appeared in person. 

The judge declined applications by multiple media outlets to take photos or video of the couple during the hearing. 

- by Guy Williams, Otago Daily Times