Between A Rock And An Art Place

Posted by on Nov 11, 2010 | 4 Comments

Jasmine Bastion - killed in 2007 by a drunk driver

Jasmine Bastion - killed in 2007 by a drunk driver

Commander John Crighton of the Royal New Zealand Navy is a good guy. I think most of us would come to that conclusion after having had a coffee or two with him, although I suspect the odd rating who has experienced a lash of his tongue may briefly hesitate to agree.

But despite being a good guy who tends to see the positive side of things, Commander Crighton is fuming. The navy has recently had, as he succinctly put it “a nightmare week.”

Having thrown open the doors of the base to a curious public a couple of months ago, the navy was basking in the glory of what was probably the most successful open day in its history. Huge crowds attended the event that occurred on a glorious spring day, the majority of whom went home happy and impressed by what they had experienced. The naval personnel were exemplary. The officers were charming. The equipment was gleaming.

The same day, the new naval museum at Torpedo Bay was officially open to the public, and it powerfully showcased the pedigree of New Zealand’s navy; a national institution steeped in mana, earned through an impressive legacy of bravery and sacrifice.

Then the week from hell. In the space of a couple of days, an allegedly drunk naval rating and his car had hurtled out of control into one of Devonport’s most popular art shops, destroying thousands of dollars of irreplaceable art work, in addition to causing thousands of dollars of damage to the shop itself. And in Nelson, drunken naval personnel had been involved in a bizarre home invasion incident involving a house next door to the pub at which they had been drinking. The navy’s reputation, painstakingly rebuilt since the violent death of  young chef Jasmine Bastion in 2007 in a similar incident involving a drunk driver in Devonport, had just taken another beating.

The focus was back on the “navy’s drinking culture.” The “young idiots” employed by the navy and their “thuggish” mates who came to the Shore to drink, and then wreaked havoc on the roads.

The navy’s options are surprisingly limited.  While we think of the navy as big and powerful, in fact, outside of its base or at sea, it has virtually no jurisdiction to do anything whatsoever. The law of the land applies, and where the law of the land is applied, there are lawyers who apply it. And these lawyers – not because they are malicious people but because the nature of the judicial system, they are required to defend the rights of their client at – frequently- any cost.

One of the destroyed works at Art By The Sea awaits disposal

One of the destroyed works at Art By The Sea awaits disposal

And in a theoretical situation where some young dude who may already have a couple of DIC charges to his name, has left his rego plate among the ruins of a building he has just destroyed while allegedly driving drunk for the umpteenth time and attempted to escape on his wheel rims, the lawyer’s primary objective is damage control. The slightest sniff of a public comment that might prejudice a fair hearing will be pounced upon and waved in the face of the presiding judge. The lawyer’s advice to his client is simple: “DO NOT SAY ANYTHING. THIS INCLUDES APOLOGISING, EXPRESSING REMORSE, OR WORST OF ALL, TAKING RESPONSIBILITY.”

So while the rest of society, perhaps unfamiliar with what might appear at first glance to be the counter-intuitive requirements of the judicial system, expect the young criminal (for he is already a criminal in their minds) to be down in the rubble begging for forgiveness from the owner and offering to help/pay for/clean up the mess he has created, while the navy military police stand over him, administering a periodic lick of the cat. Of course, nothing could be less likely to occur.

The Speculator has already related the story of the local parent who  – rather than admonish his child for a fairly minor wrongdoing – chose instead to deliver an expletive-laden rant at the resident who complained. There is also the story of the fifteen-year old kid in his car who almost killed a local cyclist, and whose father spent the entire duration of the incident insisting his son had done no wrong. We probably all have stories of this nature. If there is one trend which is easy to spot in some of our kids’ behaviour, it is this ignorance of how to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

In contrast, the story John Crighton told The Speculator about how the navy had reacted in the aftermath of both this recent incident but also the incident in which Jasmine was killed, was quite a different one from those related above about the character of our local civilian great and good. Ironically, the navy has taken more positive action and committed itself to addressing the problem of its unruly charges to a greater extent than many parents.

For John Crighton, part of his and his team’s role is to protect his ratings from the rampant drinking culture that permeates the community and society around them by educating and encouraging to make wise choices around alcohol and taking responsibility for their actions.

A zero-drinking policy is clearly unworkable. Consequently, the navy has initiated a specific programme – Kia Kaha – to help navy personnel understand the dangers of not making wise choices. Run three to four times per year, the programme involves the police and senior navy leadership as well as bringing in celebrities with a history of surviving the drinking culture. Craig Dowd, Buck Shelford and Kirk Penney have been asked to speak about the mistakes they have made and the friends they have lost through the tragedies that are inevitably connected to excessive drinking.

However, the session that is the most powerful according to Crighton is the one in which the dad of the driver of the car that killed Jasmine Bastion explains the impact that one bad decision has had on everyone involved. Jasmine, her family, the driver, the driver’s family, the other sailors in the car, the local community, the wider navy. The ripples extend further and further. The chilling everyday nature of his life up to that point – and then the devastation – doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

Crighton also explained how the navy has assigned an experienced officer to spend time with the driver, the sole objective being to get him to look at his behaviour and to accept responsibility. Not exactly an expletive-laden rant at the shop owner is it?

This approach is no panacea, but it does indicate that unlike many parents, the navy is doing something to educate its charges on the dangers of drinking. Police estimate there were around 250 kids at Cheltenham Beach last weekend, many of whom were paralytic. Who should be pointing the finger at who, one wonders?

So what went wrong at the base? It’s one thing to have a good strategy. It’s another to maintain a 100% record of implementing it. The situation is currently in limbo while all parties await the outcome of the police investigation, so how he slipped through the net is still unclear.

What is clear however, is that unlike many parents, the navy has not only built a net, it is at least attempting to deploy it.

Captain Fred Keating is available to meet with the community at the Devonport library meeting room every third Wednesday of the month. The next meeting is at 9:30am 17th November.

4 comments

  1. Bond says:

    So, let me get this straight. The Navy has a scheme to try to dissuade its sailors from drinking excessively, therefore, when they do fall off the wagon (or drive it into a local art gallery) it is not necessary for the Navy to do anything except complain that THEY are having a ‘nightmare week’. Instead of complaining that he is ‘disappointed’, perhaps Captain Keating should take positive action and do some fundraising so that the Navy can sponsor the artists whose work was destroyed and compensate the gallery for its lost livelihood. That would be vastly better for local ‘community relations’ than all this legalistic ‘it’s not our fault-line’…

  2. James S says:

    It is going to take a lot more than a drunk driving through a shop to change the culture in the navy – I imagine after a couple of young children have been knocked down by the navy hoons racing around the streets things may change.

    And I imagine that it won’t take too long for that to happen – I no longer allow our kids to go out on their own at certain times of the day due to a number of near misses on pedestrian crossings.

  3. Tricia Hollingum says:

    The Navy seems to have no control on the personnel from the base from the moment they leave. Living close to the base I have lost count of times I have seen and heard a car screaming up the road within seconds of driving out. The penalties are obviously not harsh enough. And as for Cheltenham Beach “riots”, what the hell are the parents who condone this “pilgrimage” thinking. I walked along the beach road the next day and counted 3 letterboxes that had been ripped from fences. Harmless fun??

  4. steve Anderson says:

    Your assertion that most lawyers are malicious people is totally unwarranted and does you no credit as a responsible journal. I am sick of these type of snide comments hidden away in articles and show a nasty undercurrent. Who will you run to when the first Libel threat hits your site.

    Steve Anderson

    The comment was intended to be light-hearted (some of our best friends are lawyers), but accept it might not have come across as such. Consequently it has been removed, incarcerated, subject to water-boarding and released without charge. – Ed

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