‘Deeply sorry’ – William Willis and Hannah Rawnsley named as Wanaka holidaymakers

The identities can now be revealed of the Auckland couple accused of visiting a holiday home in Wānaka at the weekend after using their essential worker status to leave lockdown.

They are William Willis, 35, whose mother is District Court Judge Mary-Beth Sharp, and lawyer Hannah Rawnsley, 26.

The pair issued an apology Tuesday evening, after declining to fight for further name suppression.

They also said that no friends or family had been aware of their trip.

“The decision that we took to travel to Wānaka last week was completely irresponsible and
inexcusable,” their statement said.

“We are deeply sorry for our actions and would like to unreservedly apologise to the Wānaka community, and to all the people of Aotearoa New Zealand, for what we did.

“We can confirm that as part of routine testing for essential workers when crossing the Auckland border, we both received negative Covid-19 tests prior to undertaking the travel, and on our subsequent return to Auckland. We can also confirm we were not considered close contacts nor had we had visited any locations of interest.”

“… We understand that strict compliance is required to stamp out Covid-19 from our country. We have let everyone down with our actions, and we wholeheartedly apologise.”

Willis’ mother released the following statement this evening:

“I am a District Court Judge, but I issue this statement in my personal capacity.

“Like the rest of New Zealand, I was appalled to learn of my son William and his partner’s
actions over the weekend.

“In addition, I was and am highly embarrassed.

“Had I known of their intentions, which of course I did not, I would have told them not to act so thoughtlessly and selfishly. I do not condone their conduct.

“I understand that William and Hannah are no longer seeking suppression of their names. I support this decision.”

A spokesperson for the Office of the Chief District Court Judge said Judge Sharp advised the chief judge of the situation and she “was not involved in any way in relation to the actions of her son and his partner”.

“To avoid any potential conflict of interest, the Chief District Court Judge has put in place arrangements for a Judge of the Wellington District Court to deal with any proceedings in relation to this matter,” the spokesperson said.

Police said the couple left Auckland on Thursday, September 9, using essential worker exemptions to cross the boundary and drive to Hamilton Airport.

They then took a commercial flight to Queenstown via Wellington and hired a car to drive to Wānaka, police said.

A tipster alerted police to the trip through the Covid-19 online compliance tool and the couple was approached Saturday afternoon, police said. The couple has since returned to Auckland.

Auckland remains under alert level 4 – the most stringent Covid-19 lockdown – until at least next week, while the rest of New Zealand is in alert level 2.

The couple’s lawyer, Rachael Reed QC, filed an emergency request for name suppression with the Papakura District Court on Monday after the story garnered widespread media interest, even though no charges had yet been filed against her clients.

“We initially sought name suppression after receiving death threats and we had genuine fear for our safety,” the couple explained in their statement this evening. “However, we remain committed to taking responsibility for our actions and will not be seeking further name suppression.”

During an after-hours teleconference Monday evening with Wellington-based Judge Bruce Davidson, she was joined by a police representative and a lawyer representing NZME and Stuff.

A police officer has been assigned to the case, but there might be some delay in filing charges or a first appearance for the couple due to court restrictions resulting from Auckland’s lockdown, police have indicated.

In a media release earlier Monday afternoon, police said they are considering charges under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 and the Ministry of Health has been notified.

Judge Davidson said in a ruling issued Tuesday morning that it appeared “at first blush” that he doesn’t have the power to order such restrictions before a person is charged or has made a first appearance in court.

But he also noted the High Court was best suited to consider the matter.

He allowed heavy suppression restrictions to stay in place for 24 hours so that the request could be filed with the High Court.

“… It must be at least arguable that the District Court does have jurisdiction under its incidental and implied powers, to make such orders,” his ruling stated. “Relevant factors would be the imminence or otherwise of charges; any delay in first appearance (e.g. here the constraining Alert Level requirements in Auckland); the Judge’s sense or gauge of any adverse media, especially social media, reaction.”

Barrister Robert Stewart is representing the Herald and other media outlets seeking to lift reporting restrictions.

“Suppression orders should be no wider than necessary and be in force for no longer than necessary,” he argued in a memo to the court. “It is submitted that the breadth of the order sought in relation to the occupation of [the man’s parent] is wider than necessary when balanced against the principle of openness and the right to freedom of expression.”

The allegations against the couple have sparked widespread anger and frustration, including from the Prime Minister, police and officials in Wānaka.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult characterised the allegations as “extremely selfish” but said he is not concerned about any health impacts on the community after having spoken with government health officials.

“It’s astounding that this couple has felt they had the right to put each and everyone in our district’s communities at risk during a global pandemic so they could partake in skiing,” he said in a statement to media on Monday. “Everyone has been working hard, many to the detriment of their financial and mental wellbeing, to do their bit to help stamp out Covid‐19 and this highly infectious Delta strain.

“It’s simply not acceptable that a handful of people continue to flout the restrictions and think they do not apply to them.”

Asked about the matter yesterday at her daily Covid-19 press conference, Jacinda Ardern said she didn’t want to get into specifics of the case because it is still with police. But “everyone needs to play their part”, she said, adding that “the rules are not there to be gamed”.

“Aucklanders would take a very dim view of other Aucklanders who aren’t doing their bit.”

Police said in a media statement on Monday that the case is an anomaly as most Aucklanders do their part to bring the strict lockdown to an end.

“What is most frustrating for police is that these incidents detract from the overall high level of compliance shown to date by the public,” a spokesperson said.

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