Porn and the silent three


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Steve Braunias reports on the first week of the rape trial in Auckland’s High Court, where Louise Nicholas has accused three police officers of raping her and indecently assaulting her with a police baton.

It felt like pornography from beginning to end. Porno, porn, hardcore and relentless, this position and then that position, so much group sex – the threesomes, a foursome. It was a shock when pleasure was mentioned, briefly. A brutal offence was referred to, a lot. So were the words "degrading", "gross", "horrible". The usual divide of alleged sex crimes – rape or consent? – swung back and forth. Throughout, it was the monotony of porn, as heard from Monday to Friday at courtroom 12, upstairs in the High Court of Auckland, until it felt like all pornography, all porno, all porn: deadening.

Bradley Keith Shipton, Robert Francis Schollum, and Clinton John Tukotahi Rickards are pleading not guilty to a variety of charges. Louise Francis Nicholas has accused each man of rape and indecent assault. The 11th and 12th indictments brought against them are allegations that in Rotorua, in January 1986, they indecently assaulted Nicholas, then aged 18, with a baton.

All three men were police officers; Rickards is still serving in the police, as assistant commissioner. He wore his full uniform on Monday when he stood in the dock and barked very loudly, "Not guilty." The uniform made him look gigantic. He seemed closer to the ground the next day, when he wore a black suit, and sat as far apart as possible from Shipton and Schollum, in a row behind their lawyers.

It was a week from the past. It was so 1980s. You heard about people driving around in old bombs – a Triumph, a Vauxhall Viva. They drank at Cobb & Co. They smoked inside. There was the matter of a white muslin dress. It was provincial New Zealand, the forested Bay of Plenty, Nicholas and Schollum first crossing paths when they lived in Murupara, then in Rotorua.

"Bad things happened," said Nicholas. "She’s lying," said Rickards. "I find these allegations incredible," said Schollum. "It’s just a load of garbage," said Shipton.

Nicholas, 38, took the stand on Tuesday. She didn’t look well. She didn’t look at all well. She seemed starved; her skin had the tan of someone who works outdoors, but her face was caved in, all bones. She told crown prosecutor Brent Stanaway, an aristocratic fellow who walks with a high step, that she had babysat Schollum’s children in Murupara when she was 12. She enjoyed athletics and gymnastics at school. Her family moved to Rotorua. She lived with them for a while in a caravan park. In 1985, she got a job at the BNZ, and found a flat. Three bedrooms, $130 a week. One night after work, she went to the police bar – "something flash was happening". She was introduced to Shipton. Shipton and Rickards, she said, began coming to her house uninvited.

She said, "The reason they were coming round was for sex. My heart would just drop. I didn’t want them there. I said, `I don’t want you to do this.’ Never at any stage did I consent to anything." She said they didn’t use physical force, but she felt intimidated.

Stanaway asked, "What happened?" She said, "They would start by undressing me, normally the bottom half, then theirs. They’d put me on the floor on my back. Shipton would hop on first. Rickards would put his penis in my mouth. And they’d swap, or put me in other positions like on all fours. That’s just what happened and there was nothing I could do about it."

She said it "seemed like all the time", but would have been no more than a dozen times. Shipton arrived once on his own. Stanaway asked, "What happened?" She said, "It was in the lounge. It was just sex. Sex." The word sounded flat, emptied out.

Stanaway: "When did these visits occur?"

Nicholas: "When I was off work or sick."

Stanaway: "Was that pre-arranged?"

Nicholas: "No."

Stanaway: "How did they know you were home?"

Nicholas said, "I wouldn’t have a clue."

And then she told about the alleged indecent assault. She described it as "a lovely, sunny day" in January. She was wearing the white muslin dress her boyfriend Ross – later her husband -had bought her that summer in Whangamata. She was walking home from work. Schollum drove by in a Triumph, and offered her a lift home. Instead, he took her to a red brick house in Rutland St. She saw Shipton and Rickards on the balcony. She said, "I had grave reservations".

They went inside. She said she was led into a bedroom. "I kept saying, `I don’t want to do this."’ Stanaway asked, "What happened?"

She recited the positions. They involved Rickards, Schollum and Shipton. The narrative got worse and worse. Trauma – real or imagined – doesn’t have punctuation. What she told the court sounded like this: "… it seemed like it was going on forever and then it was all finished and then I saw Shipton with this police baton in one hand and Vaseline in the other and I said no f—ing way mate and I’m moving back I can’t go any further I’m up against the bedroom wall and he had this dirty smirk on his face and then he…"

When she finished her story, collapsing into sobs, Justice Tony Randerson adjourned the court for 15 minutes.

Evidence was read out from Nicholas’s flatmate. The woman said Shipton and Schollum -"Brad and Bob" – would visit, usually in the evenings, and have sex with her and Nicholas. "There was always a friendly atmosphere." She was 17, Nicholas 18: "She was a really happy, fun person, and was really pretty." She thought there were three or four visits. "I was partly in awe of them, and slightly intimidated… I don’t believe any courtship was involved. There were no social niceties… I’m not sure why I participated. It was a case of it being easier to go along with it than resist it. I can see now all they came around was for was sex. I didn’t see that at the time… I wasn’t forced into anything, and neither was Louise."

Acting for Rickards, John Haigh, QC, tall, dark, and lugubrious, cross-examined Nicholas, and asked her to explain the "vast discrepancy" in the versions of events told by her and her flatmate. Nicholas said, "There’s no discrepancy. That’s her recollection. It’s not mine… I’ve always stated she was not there when these men called."

Haigh: "Well, I suggest her recollection is correct, and yours is contrived."

Nicholas: "I do not accept that at all."

Haigh: "Have you deliberately set out to destroy Assistant Commissioner Rickards?"

Nicholas: "I’ve come out and told the truth."

Haigh: "I suggest you’ve enjoyed the media attention in an extraordinary way."

Nicholas: "That isn’t right. I was given an opportunity to tell my story. I didn’t instigate it. I was approached about the police investigation. It made me definitely think I had been duped something shocking. It’s why I went to the media."

Haigh said, "Repeatedly."

The week ended when three police officers read out the interviews they conducted with the three accused in May 1995. When they knew Nicholas in Rotorua, Rickards was 24, Shipton 27, and Schollum 33.

Rickards denied any assault with a baton. He recalled an occasion when he had "sexual contact" with Nicholas at another address. "Brad and I had consensual sex with her." Together? "Yes." On another occasion, he visited her in her flat. No, he didn’t remember the flatmate’s name: "I only remember Louise’s name, because I have to." He said, "Brad may have been there." Was he or wasn’t he? "He was there." What happened? "Oral sex took place. She may have had a period or something." He said it happened in the lounge, at about six or seven at night. Why did he consider it was consensual? "She would sit on your knee and kiss you. She played up to me on both occasions." He said he found the interview, conducted in Papakura, "highly embarrassing".

Schollum’s interview had taken place in Napier. He denied any assault with a baton. He said that when Nicholas was 16, they had sex at dawn in the awning of her parents’ caravan. On at least three occasions, she biked around to his house. That first time, while they were having sex in his bedroom, "Brad walked in and talked about having a threesome. She agreed, and fully consented, and fully enjoyed what happened." He said she later had sex with him and then Shipton in a car. He thought the last time he had sex with her was when she was 19, talking about becoming engaged.

Shipton’s interview had taken place in Tauranga. He denied any assault with a baton. He said, "I put it to Louise a threesome would be good for her… There was no secret she was very loose. She loved policemen. It was quite obvious… I can’t recall having sex with Louise on a one-to-one basis. My sexual encounters with Louise have always been group sex. Me and Bob, or me and Clint… She openly expressed her sexuality… I believe she had sex with other officers. She frequented the police canteen, and Cobb & Co, where police drank. She was one of those girls… Louise is more accommodating than most women…"

He talked and talked; the interview lasted three hours. Asked why he thought Nicholas "thoroughly enjoyed" their sexual encounters, he said: "It’s the same as when you have sex with your wife. The vibes, the reaction you’re getting."

The allegations of 1985-86 and the police interviews in 1995 had come to this: pornography in a beautiful week in autumn, the soft light outside the blinds of courtroom 12, while Brad Shipton, Bob Schollum and Clint Rickards sat in a row in dark suits, never touching, a silent threesome.

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