Father admits attempting to murder son after setting him alight with petrol

A father who threw petrol over his son and set him alight causing severe burns to 70 per cent of his body has admitted an attempted murder charge.

Ihau Nigel Tawhiti, of Bowentown, pleaded guilty in the High Court at Rotoruaon September 3 via an audiovisual link from prison.

The 61-year-old originally denied the charge of attempting to murder Leroy Tawhiti, 28, on March 14 at the defendant’s Seaforth Rd home in Bowentown.

Tawhiti’s jury trial was set to take place on December 6 but he pleaded guilty to the charge when re-arraigned on Friday.

The Crown summary of facts, obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times, said Tawhiti and his son had a volatile relationship.

The attempted murder took place on a block of family land off Seaforth Rd that consisted of multiple small dwellings, a shed and a cabin. The front lawn of borders the edge of the Bowentown estuary.

Gathered were Tawhiti and some family members, including a sister and brother of the victim, Leroy, who usually lived at a different address a short distance away.

On the evening of March 13 this year, Leroy stayed the night in his younger sister’s cabin with his 1-year-old child, while his sister slept in the main house.

About 8.30am on March 14, while Leroy and his sister were still asleep, their older brother arrived.

Their father, who was outside, became angry when he saw Leroy’s grey Nissan vehicle parked at the address.

He confronted the older son and yelled at him: “Where the f*** is your brother?”

Concerned about Tawhiti’s aggression towards Leroy, the older sibling told his father he wasn’t sure.

Tawhiti replied: “Well, there’s his f***ing car” and told the older son to “F*** off.”

So as not to escalate the situation, the older son walked away before Leroy came out of the cabin to find out what the commotionwas about.

Tawhiti, who had then gone into a nearby shed, was carrying a petrol container when he and Leroy approached each other.

When about two metres apart, Tawhiti threw petrol over his son and used
a cigarette lighter to set him on fire. Leroy’s body became engulfed in flames from his shoulders down.

Leroy ran into the Bowentown estuary in order to put the fire out and cool his burns. He stayed in the water for about five minutes.

During this time, his father returned to the shed and took a metal bucket and put some petrol into it, and again approached his son with it as he came out of the sea but Leroy’s brother and sister managed to stop their father from throwing more petrol over him.

Despite being in significant pain, Leroy confronted his father about what he had done, and a verbal and physical confrontation ensued.

Leroy then drove his vehicle a short distance to his home and his partner then drove him to a relative’s address where a 111 call was made.

He was subsequently flown to the Middlemore Hospital in a critical condition after sustaining extensive burns to 70 per cent of his body.

The victim was transferred to the burns unit at Middlemore Hospital, then also treated at
Waikato Hospital before being transferred to Tauranga Hospital. He has undergone extensive surgery and also undergone rehabilitation.

When interviewed by police, Tawhiti admitted throwing petrol over his son and setting him on fire. He also said: “Leroy said he was going to kill me.”

Justice Melanie Harland remanded the defendant in custody, tobe sentenced on October 29.

She called for sentencing reports, including a cultural report and a possible restorative justice meeting report if the victim was willing to participate in such a process.

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