Michael Field covered Tony Veitch’s original trial and reported on the release of his police file. He writes that the broadcaster’s column yesterday was just another instance of his abdicating responsibility for his actions.
A long time ago I sat in a court as a judge pulled a black handkerchief over his white wig and passed a sentence of death.
It was as dramatic as it sounded, and it was personal. The condemned man had murdered, in cold blood, a woman who had just recently become my mother-in-law.
I knew he would not hang, because in those days Samoa had a Head of State, Malietoa Tanumafili II, who refused to sign death warrants. He wasn’t especially pious about it; he just believed that when it came his time to enter heaven, he didn’t want to meet the people he had sent there ahead of him.
Sure enough the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. In the end the man served about eight years in jail, came out, changed his name, and emigrated to New Zealand. He lives in Auckland.
Broadcaster Tony Veitch did not, of course, kill anybody. He was fortunate that he didn’t, after kicking his former partner, Kristin Dunne-Powell so hard that it broke her back.
Now he is outing himself again, doing the whole mea culpa thing for the Herald – with the paper having to address his prominent position at NZME ahead of the launch of its own family violence series this morning. One thing struck me immediately: the sad way in which his partner was absent from his anniversary piece.
I did a lot of work at the Auckland District Court at the time of Veitch’s trial. Most of my work was covering the grubby sad stuff you see in the courtrooms there any day of the week. Veitch’s case was different. His lawyers had a better cut of suit than the rest of the second-string legal defence teams that plough their way through that mountain of tragedy each day. The other striking thing was the media turnout. The array of reporters in the court included people from the gossip magazines, who seldom grace the realm of the working classes. This was celebrity.
There was hardly anywhere for me to sit in the press area. I ended up on the side. And so by chance I came to be sitting beside the woman Veitch had abused on more than one occasion.
At one point she had to address the court, explaining what had happened to her.
It would be ungracious to say that I could smell her fear, but there was a powerful sense of a beaten soul. She was shaking, and had clearly suffered profoundly. She probably still does.
Without getting into the politics of the justice system, what you see when women like that are in the court is a victim being further and systematically re-victimised. I did not want to be there, but she was linked to a minor celebrity, so just about every reporter in town had been ordered to cover the case.
I’ve no idea what Veitch’s victim makes of his statement yesterday. But I strongly believe that Veitch cannot talk about his apparent inspiring redemption without mentioning her. Much more, if anybody is given the opportunity to write moving columns about celebrity savagery, then it should be those those who paid the real price – the victims.
What riles me too is the fact that Veitch’s column read like it had been through the celebrity minder world that he comes from. As if it had been tweaked and massaged so that he would emerge as the reformed sinner.
But even in his mea culpa, Veitch managed to make a cynical statement distorting and minimising his actions.
In the second paragraph of the story, Veitch claims he made a single huge mistake in January, 2006. “Even though it was the only time that I have ever lashed out in my life, once was too much. I should have walked away, but instead I hurt someone and I can’t ever make that go away,” he says.
That statement is wrong, according to both the victim’s family and Veitch’s police file.
Veitch pleaded guilty to kicking the woman on the ground, breaking her back and putting her in a wheelchair for a time. Judge Jan Doogue sentenced him to nine months supervision and 300 hours of community service and imposed a $10,000 fine.
Six other charges against him were dropped for reasons never explained – but it is common for certain charges to be dropped in exchange for a guilty plea so as to spare the victim the stresses and the state the expense of a trial. It should not be taken as evidence that the other charges were baseless.
I was with Fairfax in 2009 when somebody in the organisation fired off an Official Information Act request for the police file. Somewhat surprisingly they agreed, and the bulky Veitch file showed up in the newsroom. By chance, it fell to me to go through it and write a story. Now, oddly, if you Google Veitch’s name, inevitably it is my story that comes up.
There is no point now in going through it all but if you were to set an anniversary for Veitch’s violence it might be linked to the period from March 15, 2002 to April 19, 2003. There were more between April 14, 2003 and April 9, 2005.
The charge Veitch pleaded guilty to occurred on January 29, 2006.
That is the anniversary he refers to marking in his Herald column: 10 years since the event that got him convicted.
I’ve no interest in parading Veitch through the muck again. But I think he should stop writing self-serving columns if he can’t truly take responsibility for his actions. If anybody gets to write about what he did, it should be that woman; the one who was shaking the whole time I was beside her.
As for forgiveness, it’s not my business, but I like Samoa’s approach. Anybody who saw the film The Orator would have seen it – the ifoga. Transgress an individual or a family, and the chiefs and perpetrators of the transgression arrive outside the victim’s house before dawn. They sit with fine mats over them until they are invited inside. The ifoga can go for days and days. But seldom is there any refusal to accept the apology and to offer forgiveness.
It’s a more civilised, cultured way of resolving the pain than writing a celebrity column on some contrived anniversary.
If fa’a Samoa is too much for Veitch, he could perhaps reflect on John Profumo. A high flying British politician, Profumo’s life collapsed in scandal, sex and spies in 1963. He resigned and disappeared from public view.
What most of us never knew was that Profumo, destroyed and scandalised, went to the east of London and cleaned toilets for the charity Toynbee Hall. He did it for decades unnoticed, without writing self-aggrandising columns about it.
Only much later did his good works emerge, when the Queen gave him a gong.
His family had the real sense that through his quiet penance, he had redeemed himself.
(Additional reporting: Hayden Donnell)
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.