Judge Maelyn Bird had the accused William Hence released after imposing a total sentence of three years imprisonment.
The reason for Hence’s release was due to the long delay in the prosecution of this matter, of which, Bird said is a breach of Hence’s Constitutional Rights.
“The delay of more than 16 years in your case, would result in a substantial reduction of the sentence which would have been imposed on you,” Bird said before sentencing Hence,” Bird said.
Hence was sentenced after pleading guilty to five counts of abduction and one count of assault causing actual bodily harm.
He was jointly charged with former warlord Harold Keke and Ronnie Cawa who are both currently serving life imprisonment sentences for separate tension related cases.
Keke and Cawa are yet to be dealt with for this matter.
The abduction of the five Tasius happened between 6 June 2003 and 10 June 2003 at Hoba, Koloqauqau and Mbiti in Weathercoast.
Hence was arrested and remanded in custody on 25 September 2003 and after serving seven years imprisonment term for another offence, he was released on incarceration.
He was arrested again on 31 December 2015 and remanded.
Bird said Hence’s matter was not listed even for mention by the High Court and the first time Hence appeared in court was on 14 June 2019, some four years after his arrest.
“The delay is very unreasonable and unjustified under the circumstances.”
She said Hence case was mentioned by the High Court on 1 February 2013 and was forwarded to the Case Listing Committee (CLC) and CLC did not fix any trial date until 14 June 2019 when it was listed for a bail application.
“Your right to be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court is safeguarded by virtue of section 10 (1) of the Constitution.”
Bird said there is a delay of 16 years, seven months and 25 days.
“Does the facts, in this case, comply with the requirement of section 10 (1) of the Constitution?
“I believe not.”
She said this is a very serious delay and the High Court, Director of Public Prosecutions and the Public Solicitor’s Office should be equally blamed for this.
She added that there was no warrant of arrest and no remand warrant against Hence on the file and from supplementary submissions from the prosecutions it was evident that an error had been committed by the court.
She said the error was that the warrant of arrest which was issued by this Court dated 2 October 2012, was in respect to another criminal case not this current proceeding.
“Had the Court been vigilant enough to check all the relevant court files in respect of this defendant, this error should have been avoided.
“The accused was arrested and detained in custody since 31 December 2015 in relation to criminal case number 405 of 2008.
“That particular file should have been listed by this court upon the defendant’s arrest.
“That never happen,” Bird further added.
Bird also added that she was informed by the counsel in this matter that this matter could be one of them that was included by court direction to wait for hearing because Keke and Cawa were serving life imprisonment.
She however said she does not agree with such a direction should come from the court simply because it defeats a person’s right under section 10 of the Constitution.
Before passing sentence Bird considered the aggravating factors, of which, Hence were a member of an unlawful armed group, his actions were inhumane and barbaric and the captives were held for two weeks by Hence’s group until their release.
Bird also took into account, his guilty plea, reconciliation was carried out between his group and the victim’s relatives and that Keke apologised for Hence’s actions.
“The court also took note of the fact that at the time of offending, you were a young man who was taking orders from your leaders.
“One of the orders taken had resulted in the current prosecution in this case,” she told Hence.
The five victims who were members of the Melanesian Brotherhood of Anglican Church were on a practical mission to Weathercoast when the incident happened.
They were there purposely to teach other communities on Salvation or living a Christian life.
Earlier on two other members of the Melanesian Brotherhood who went on a practical mission were captured by former Guadalcanal Warlord Harold Keke’s men in Hoba.
The five victims had decided to go to Hoba in an attempt to ask Keke’s men to release the two brothers or Tasiu.
They sent a note to Keke’s men who replied to the message telling them to wait for them to come and discuss the situation.
The men including Hence arrived then told the five victims to walk with them to Koloqauqau.
They tied the victims’ hands and on the way, they were stopped and asked why they were there.
Having reached Koloqauqua the victims were taken to a copra direr outside the village where they were being further questioned about their purpose to go to Keke’s territory.
One of the victims was asked if he was a spy for the government and received a kick to his face and back when his answers did not satisfactory to the accused.
After being questioned, the victims were taken to Mbiti village where they were further questioned.
The victims were kept there for some weeks and following negotiations between Keke and a business man Yukio Sato, they were released.
The two others members of the Melanesian Brotherhood were earlier reported to have been held captive were also released.
A reconciliation ceremony was conducted between Keke on behalf of his men and the victims in exchange for shell money, pigs, potatoes, and an apology from Keke for the treatment of the victims.
Sato left first with four of the brothers to Honiara and later returned for the other three.
Public Solicitors’ lawyer Daniel Kwalai represented Hence while Public Prosecutor Andrew Kelesi prosecuted the matter.