Revealed: Gloriavale man who abused five young people

Timothy Disciple

A Gloriavale man who inappropriately touched five young people, including a 12-year-old girl, can finally be named following a long court battle.

Name suppression for Timothy Disciple, 41, lapsed at 5pm today following a failed appeal to the High Court.

The convicted abuser has had his sentence reduced to 21 months imprisonment after pleading guilty to seven historical indecent assaults against children and teenagers at the Gloriavale Christian Community.

Disciple is a father of 10 and a former dairy worker at the West Coast religious sect, which adheres to an extreme fundamentalist version of Christianity. Believers live and work in close quarters and follow strict rules set by leadership.

Some of the details of Disciple's offending can't be revealed, but the court has allowed certain information to be published in the interests of open justice.

A High Court judgment shows he indecently assaulted a 12-year-old girl in the back row of a van in December 2005. The abuser, who was aged 24 at the time and recently married, touched the young girl's back and bottom over her clothes.

Later, in separate incidents in 2006, he approached two teenage girls from behind and inappropriately touched their breasts. Details relating to two other young victims can't be published.

Disciple had asked the court to grant him permanent name suppression on the basis he would suffer extreme hardship if his identity was revealed. His bid was opposed by several media organisations – including TVNZ – and eventually declined by both the District Court and the High Court on appeal.

In the High Court appeal, Justice Jonathan Eaton found there was "no evidence or substantiated submission" that publication of Disciple's name would affect his ability to "rehabilitate or reintegrate into the community".

"It appears the Gloriavale community is very supportive of Mr Disciple and would welcome him back into the community," the judge said.

Disciple argued identification would add stress to the Gloriavale community, but Justice Eaton noted many in Gloriavale already knew about the offending, saying it was "dealt with internally in the community some time ago".

A discount: Disciple's sentence reduced on appeal

While Disciple's appeal for name suppression was unsuccessful, he did manage to reduce his sentence by nine months.

The District Court initially sentenced the Gloriavale man to two years and six months in jail, but the High Court found there had been errors in this decision.

The arguments at appeal centred around the "discounts" to his sentence – which are considered by judges to factor in mitigations, such an early guilty plea or previous good character.

Disciple's lawyer Marcus Zintl argued further discounts should've been given for his co-operation with authorities, previous good character, and his youth.

In the original District Court decision, the judge refused to make any deductions for previous good character because the offending "occurred over a prolonged six-year period".

But in the High Court, Justice Eaton disagreed that the offending was over a prolonged six-year period. Rather than being over six years it was one offence, followed by a gap of several years, and then a stretch of "regular" offending over 18 months.

Justice Eaton noted Disciple had no previous convictions and had demonstrated a low risk of re-offending, and allowed a discount of 5% for previous good character.

The judge also allowed some extra credit for Disciple's willingness to work with police. The Gloriavale man had voluntarily admitted his crimes against three of the five young people, which were not known to the police.

Zintl argued that the offending was "highly unlikely" to have come to light if Disciple had not confessed, and called for a higher discount to incentivise other offenders to volunteer information to police.

But the Crown argued that the confession came 15 years after the offending and only after Disciple was already aware others had come forward.

In response, Justice Eaton did allow some extra credit – increasing the discount from 5% to 10%.

However, the court declined to give a deduction for Disciple's youth at the time of the offending. Justice Eaton agreed with the District Court on this front, noting the offending was not youthful indiscretion or impulsive, and there was no basis for a discount.

The final jail sentence was reduced from two years and six months to 21 months.

As the new revised sentence was shorter than two years, the court was then legally obliged to consider giving Disciple home detention.

Zintl argued this should be allowed as Disciple had a "low risk of re-offending", as well as his level of remorse, the consequences for his family if he was jailed, and his employment opportunities.

Justice Eaton rejected this, saying the offending was "simply too serious", with Disciple repeatedly offending against multiple victims over a relatively prolonged period.

"Although I accept that, from a rehabilitative perspective, a sentence of home detention might be seen as appropriate, that factor is outweighed by the need to impose a sentence that both denounces Mr Disciple's conduct and deters any others," he said.

However, under New Zealand law, all prisoners who are jailed for two years or less are automatically released on parole, with conditions, after serving half of their sentence.

This means Disciple, now a convicted sex offender, may end up serving less than a year behind bars.

He could be welcomed back to Gloriavale as early as August next year.