Couple apologises for Wanaka trip flouting lockdown rules

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William Willis, son of District Court Judge Mary-Beth Sharp (Photo by Getty Images via RNZ)

Jean Bell 
Auckland, September 14, 2021

A judge’s son and his barrister partner are the couple who Police say flouted lockdown rules by travelling to a Wanaka holiday home from Auckland.

It has been revealed that they are William Willis, a 35-year-old equestrian from Karaka, and his partner Hannah Rawnsley, a 26-year-old barrister from Pukekohe.

Police said that the pair crossed the alert level 4 border from Auckland using essential worker exemptions and drove to Hamilton Airport on Thursday (September 9, 2021). They took a commercial flight to Queenstown via Wellington, rented a vehicle and drove to Wanaka.

Police said that they were notified via the Covid-19 compliance reporting tool online and found the pair on Saturday (September 11, 2021) afternoon.

Irresponsible and inexcusable

William Willis is the son of District Court Judge Mary-Beth Sharp.

In a statement issued by their lawyer Rachael Reed QC, the couple said the decision to travel to Wanaka was “completely irresponsible and inexcusable.”

“We are deeply sorry for our actions and would like to unreservedly apologise to the Wanaka community, and to all the people of Aotearoa New Zealand, for what we did,” they said.

The couple said that they both tested negative for Covid-19 before travelling and on their return to Auckland and that they were not close contacts of a positive case and had not visited any locations of interest.

“We initially sought name suppression after receiving death threats and we had genuine fear for our safety. However, we remain committed to taking responsibility for our actions and will not be seeking further name suppression. We understand that strict compliance is required to stamp out Covid-19 from our country. We have let everyone down with our actions, and we wholeheartedly apologise,” they said.

Name suppression withdrawn

The duo were initially granted interim name suppression after Willis’ lawyer argued social media users cannot be trusted to follow non-publication orders.

An urgent teleconference hearing was held on Monday night, during which Rachael Reed QC submitted that the couple should keep their names secret as social media users, bloggers, and citizens and journalists could not be expected to follow suppression orders as mainstream media would.

In a decision released on Tuesday (September 14, 2021), Judge Davidson granted the couple interim name suppression and prohibited the publication of other identifying details, including Judge Sharp’s occupation.

This allowed time for the couple and Judge Sharp to consider applying to the High Court for non-publication orders ahead of formal charges being laid.

Police prosecutor Ned Fletcher noted that there might be some delay in filing charges or the couple’s first appearance in court due to Auckland’s alert level four restrictions.

Charges have not been laid yet against the couple.

If filed, the charges would allege breaches of the Covid-19 Public Health Response Order.

Judge embarrassed

In a statement issued in a personal capacity, Willis’ mother Mary-Beth Sharp, said she was embarrassed by the couple’s actions.

“Like the rest of New Zealand, I was appalled to learn of my son William and his partner’s actions over the weekend. In addition, I was and am highly embarrassed. Had I known of their intentions, which of course I did not, I would have told them not to act so thoughtlessly and selfishly. I do not condone their conduct,” she said.

Judge Sharp said that she supported the couple’s decision to no longer seek name suppression.

A spokesperson from the Office of the Chief District Court Judge said that Judge Sharp of the Auckland District Court had advised the Chief District Court Judge that her son was one of the persons facing possible charges and that she was not involved in any way to the actions of the couple.

In a statement, the spokesperson said to avoid any potential conflict of interest, the Chief District Court Judge had put in place arrangements for a judge of the Wellington District Court to deal with any proceedings in relation to the matter.

-Jean Bell is a Journalist at Radio New Zealand. The above story has been published under a Special Agreement with

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