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Judge criticises ‘pathetic and juvenile’ gang colour code after attack in front of Hastings KFC

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By Ric Stevens, Open Justice reporter of NZ Herald

28072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Napier Court

A Mongrel Mob leader received a three and a half year jail term, during sentencing at Napier District Court.
Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A judge has criticised the “pathetic and juvenile” attitude that gang members can dictate to others what colours they can wear and where.

“People in this country are free to go about where they wish,” Judge Russell Collins said when sentencing a Mongrel Mob member for an attack on a Black Power rival that injured three people in a Hastings street.

Vinnie Freeman Herewini, 32, appeared for sentence in the Napier District Court today charged with the aggravated robbery of Papakura Black Power member James Rivers, and assault with a weapon.

Herewini, the captain of the Mongrel Mob in Flaxmere, was sent to prison for three and a half years.

The sentencing of a co-offender and fellow mobster, Charlie Paeora Whiunui, for the same offences was delayed. The court is still dealing with him.

Rivers was sitting in his car outside the Hastings KFC branch waiting for his order about 9am on 7 October, 2020, when Whiunui and Herewini arrived in their vehicle.

Rivers was wearing a hoodie with Black Power insignia, a blue hat, and has clear facial tattoos showing his gang affiliation.

Rivers was out of his car when the two Mongrel Mob members confronted him and told him to leave.

When he refused, Whiunui and Herewini armed themselves with a tyre iron and a golf club.

The ensuing attack was directly in front of the KFC and in full view of members of the public on main Hastings thoroughfare, Heretaunga Street West.

Whiunui and Herewini hit Rivers with the golf club, which snapped after repeated blows.

Rivers drew a knife and stabbed both attackers. Whiunui was cut in the face below his left eye. Both men later sought treatment at Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

Rivers lost his hoodie and his hat. His hat was later found in the mobsters’ vehicle, along with the broken golf club. The hoodie was not recovered.

After the mobsters left, Rivers picked up his food from the drive-through window and left also.

He later accepted treatment from an ambulance officer but refused to talk to police or allow them to photograph injuries on his face. He did not take part in the jury trial of Herewini and Whiunui last November.

Crown prosecutor Michael Blaschke said Herewini’s willingness to use violence in full view of members of the public was an aggravating factor in his offending.

Defence counsel Antony Willis said Herewini had managed to stay out of trouble since he was jailed for a violent attack when he was aged 18, in 2008.

Willis said he had also made efforts to begin counselling while awaiting sentence for what he conceded was an “inappropriate” response.

But Judge Collins said Herewini had shown no remorse and there was no discount available on his sentence for a guilty plea, because he had taken the charges to trial.

“There is no acknowledgement of wrongdoing here,” the judge said.

Judge Collins said that he could understand the social and other forces that drove young men to join the Mongrel Mob.

But he added: “None of that understanding can justify two young Māori men beating another young Māori man because he happens to be wearing the wrong colours in the wrong part of town.”

He said Rivers was not there to get into a fight. He was there to buy KFC. He produced the knife when he was told to remove his gang colours.

“You both got stabbed because you were determined to pursue him or attack him or otherwise punish him for wearing the wrong colours in the wrong part of town.”

The judge said that the two mobsters could have walked away, or allowed Rivers to keep wearing his colours, but their gang “code” did not allow that.

“But there is no justification for your code,” the judge said.

It struck fear into the community and it affected how people went about their lives.

He said there were members of the Mongrel Mob who “absolutely enjoy” engendering that degree of fear in the community.

In 2008, Herewini was one of four men who burst into a Flaxmere house and attacked a 21-year-old man whose girlfriend fled in fear with the couple’s 6-week-old child.

Police searched for the culprits for eight weeks, during which time thousands marched from Flaxmere to Hastings to demand an end to such violence, under banners saying “enough is enough”.

Herewini was sentenced to two years and one month in prison for that attack.

* This story was first published on the website of the New Zealand Herald.

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