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Nelson man who shot at real estate agent’s drone has charges against him dismissed  | Stuff.co.nz

Nelson man who shot at real estate agent’s drone has charges against him dismissed | Stuff.co.nz

A man prosecuted for shooting at a drone has had the charges against him dismissed.

Judge Tony Zohrab’s ruling into the case against Craig Allen Heath hinged on whether the drone was over his property and whether he had a right to fire the shot. 

He was charged with intentional damage of a drone and discharging a firearm in a public place, with police saying the drone was over another property, and that Heath fired from his property across or near Matakitaki Rd.

In the end, Nelson District Court Judge Tony Zohrab was unable to sort out where the drone was, gave Heath the benefit of the doubt, and dismissed the charges.

The saga unfolded on Matakitaki West Bank Rd, a rural road running due south from Murchison beside the Matakitaki River. It is here that Heath lived in a property with two yurts.

Alexander Kolomietz/123RF
Under Civil Aviation rules, someone should get consent from the owner if they wish to fly a drone over a property, the judge said.

It was also along the road that estate agent Toby Randall was selling a property and on the day in question – September 28, 2018 – he went out with two others to get some photographs for the listing.

A photographer there, only identified as “Mr Starr”, got a drone airborne then handed the controls to Randall while another estate agent, Sharyn Miller, went in pursuit of a dog that had escaped the property.

In all the claims and counter claims was one clear fact: Heath took exception to the drone, grabbed his shotgun, and took a shot at it.

MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF
Judge Tony Zohrab struggled to believe the tales of the man who shot at a drone but gave him the benefit of the doubt. (File photo)

But crucially, and a point the prosecution failed to win, was whether Randall and his people were correct that it only stayed over the for-sale property, or did it veer over Heath’s?

“The traditional position in common law is that he who owns the land, owns everything reaching to the heavens and down to the centre of the earth, and under Civil Aviation rules, someone should get consent from the owner if they wish to fly the drone over the property,” Zohrab said.

Zohrab did though have concerns about the speed at which Heath had managed to so quickly get access to the loaded firearm.

PHIL WALTER
The Matakitaki valley south of Murchison in Tasman where a landowner took a shot at a drone.

“So his explanation effectively for that was that each morning he would get the firearms out from their secured position, with two at the kitchen yurt, and one at the upper yurt so he could take care of the wild cat problem…”

Later, he added: “I have got some concerns with the suggestion that on a daily basis he trots these things out so he can be vigilant for these wild cats, so they can be sorted out during the day, and then he trots all of these things back to the safe.”

CAMERON BURNELL/STUFF
Defence lawyer Michael Bott said his client felt vindicated but exhausted.

But various concerns about the truth of claims later, Zohrab gave Heath the benefit of the doubt and the words, “you are discharged”. 

Defence lawyer Michael Bott said Heath was happy with the outcome and that his rights as a property owner had been vindicated.

“Drones aren’t meant to cross your property without your consent.”

This content was originally published here.

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