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Intense supervision for assault on girl

Two women who were supposed to be looking after a relative's daughter submerged her in a winter-cold stream and hit her with gorse branches when she tried to get out, Ruatoria District Court heard.

Eventually the girl started shivering and spasming, her eyes rolling back in her head.

One of the women ran to get the girl's father, who was busy elsewhere on the rural property.

He carried his daughter back to the house and tried unsuccessfully to revive her with a hot shower.

A rescue helicopter took 20 minutes to reach the rural property. The girl was taken to Gisborne Hospital suffering hypothermia, swelling, bruising and scratches.

In sentencing submissions yesterday, police said it was only good luck the outcome was not more grave.

The names of the women, who are in their 30s, were permanently suppressed to protect the identity of the victim. Neither have previous convictions.

Each pleaded guilty to a jointly-laid charge of causing grievous bodily harm with reckless disregard and assault with a weapon.

One of them pleaded guilty to an additional charge of assault with a weapon, the other to an additional five charges of assaulting a child.

Judge Turitea Bolstad sentenced them to two years intensive supervision and ordered each to do 200 hours community work.

The judge refused to hear applications for discharges without conviction, saying the offending was too serious.

On the lead charge of causing grievous bodily harm, the judge set a sentence starting point of 15 to 18 months imprisonment — the same as that advocated for by counsels Vicky Thorpe and Mark Sceats.

Discounts for guilty pleas, factors outlined in cultural reports and remorse brought the end sentence within the 24-month threshold for electronically-monitored sentence options. However, the judge accepted those options were technically infeasible and unnecessary in the circumstances.

Intensive supervision, although further down the sentencing hierarchy, was not a soft sentence and coupled with the punitive element of community work, was appropriate in the circumstances, the judge said. It provided the women an opportunity to make things right.

According to a summary of facts, the women were entrusted with caring for the primary school-aged girl one day in June last year..

The assaults began as one of the women told the girl to take off her dirty clothes and wash them, along with some bedding.

When the girl spilled water on the floor the woman responded by stuffing a bar of soap in the girl's mouth. She also forced the girl to squat-walk with a heavy, wet, blanket to the clothesline.

Dressed in just a light cotton top and her knickers, the girl was directed by both women to a stream on the property.

The first woman prodded her in the back with a stick after the girl took too long to negotiate a farm gate.

The girl did not want to get into the stream as the water was too cold but fell in when the first woman pushed her.

The women threw mud and sticks at her. One of the sticks hit the girl in the head.

The first woman, wielding a gorse bush, got in the water with the girl, chased her and threw her to a muddy bank where the other woman, also wielding a gorse branch, hit her with it about 10 times on the back and legs.

The first woman forced mud into the girl's mouth before throwing her back into the stream.

The women refused to let the girl out until she had held her breath under the water for 10 seconds.

The girl repeatedly tried but could not do it.

The first woman used both her hands to push the girl's head under and counted to 10. The girl came up gasping and gulping.

The woman pushed her head under several more times. The girl swam to another part of the stream and tried to get out but it was too steep.

The woman in the water threw her on to the opposite bank, where she started showing signs of hypothermia.

The second woman ran for help.

Both women initially denied the allegations but after speaking with their parents, admitted what they did, expressing deep remorse and shame.

A restorative justice report and victim impact statement detailed the struggle the girl's parents had coming to terms with the women's offending.

They and the girl had received help and had slowly reached a stage where they were able to overcome their initial anger and extend forgiveness, report writers said.

All the girl's parents now wanted was for their whanau to be reunited and heal together.

Judge Bolstad told the women they were fortunate not to be facing a more serious charge and to have such good support.