Thursday, March 23, 2006

Carroll Du Chateau: Rickards takes the stand, impervious as a wax model

Yesterday, 20 years after his alleged rapes of Louise Nicholas, and 11 years after the first investigation into them, Assistant Commissioner of Police (suspended) Clinton Rickards finally took the stand in the High Court.

And he denied almost everything.

One of the top policemen in the country, he knows what to do in the witness box. He sits there, shaven head gleaming, mouth grim, massive jaw thrust out, as impervious and expressionless as a wax model.

His answers are clipped and minimal. The only time the trace of a smile lightens his face is when he is asked to look at a photo of himself, his then-partner and baby daughter.

As Rickards tells it, the two times he and colleague Brad Shipton had sex with 18-year-old Louise Nicholas were happy, jovial occasions. Rickards can't remember why his friend Brad Shipton picked him up and took him to their colleague Bob Schollum's place in Rutland St one night after dark. What he can remember is that Nicholas was there, welcomed them in and almost immediately sat on his lap. "It was a jovial occasion, laughing, giggling, talking away. It was a very happy occasion."

"Did you ever force yourself on her?"

"No, I did not. Louise Nicholas is lying."

And later, when asked, "What do you think was in it for Mrs Nicholas?"

"I don't know. You'd have to ask Louise Nicholas that."

Although Rickards admits to feeling embarrassed to be here in court explaining how he and Shipton took turns to have sex with Nicholas while the other watched, it does not show on his mask-like face.

Throughout his evidence and cross-examination he does not deviate from the evidence he gave back in 1994 when the case surfaced. A transcript of his evidence sits there on the computer monitor in the witness box. As he says, "I am happy to answer questions about it but I won't deviate from the evidence I said before."

And so, with excruciating slowness, shreds of extra information are prised from Rickards as though from a tightly clamped oyster. The fact that he watched Shipton having sex with Nicholas after he had finished; the reason he had oral sex with Nicholas on the second occasion he admits to meeting her (after he claimed she called and invited them round) was because she had her period or some infection.

That time Rickards went on to have sex with Nicholas' flatmate - then promptly forgot her name.

Throughout the cross-examination Rickards' memory falters.

He cannot remember people's names or why and when he went places. Several witnesses brought up during the trial are described as being "a nobody to me".

He seems more comfortable when speaking directly to judge Tony Randerson, rather than his lawyer, John Haigh, QC, or Crown Prosecutor Brent Stanaway.

"The [rape] allegations were lies. I had consensual sex with the victim. Now I find myself in a box having to explain myself again."

And later, when asked about Nicholas' allegation that he and Shipton used a baton on her, causing bleeding and injury: "I didn't believe it. Louise Nicholas is lying."

"Were you ever told by Schollum and Shipton about the use of a police baton?"

"No, I was never."

At every opportunity he stresses that "Louise Nicholas is lying" and that he, himself, tells the truth.

At the time of the alleged rapes and indecent assaults, Rickards was 24 or 25, a detective in Rotorua, with two small children, a mortgage and a partner.

He is 45 now, that partnership is over and his present partner of 13 or 14 years sits at the back of the court in a brave pink jacket.

Alongside are the wives of Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum and a crowd of 70-odd citizens all eager to witness Rickards' day in court.

Although he looks over as they file out, Rickards does not permit himself a smile.

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