The Queenstown-Lakes District Mayor says he accepts the apology of an Auckland couple who allegedly breached lockdown to travel to their family's holiday home in Wānaka - but warns the duo to stay away from the area for "a fair old while".
In a statement on Tuesday evening, William Willis, 35, and Hannah Rawnsley, 26, retracted their request for name suppression and issued an apology to the nation for their "irresponsible and inexcusable" actions. The two had been granted interim suppression in the District Court on Monday as police investigated the allegations, however their identities were revealed on Tuesday night after the order lapsed.
The couple have not yet been charged by police, but face up to six months in prison or a $4000 fine if found guilty of breaching lockdown restrictions.
"We are deeply sorry for our actions and would like to unreservedly apologise to the Wānaka community, and to all the people of Aotearoa New Zealand, for what we did," Willis and Rawnsley, a top horse breeder and lawyer respectively, said in the statement.
"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."
In their statement, the two confirmed they were not considered close contacts, had returned negative tests, and had not visited any locations of interest.
But Mayor Jim Boult says there is still "a lot of anger and a lot of hurt" in the tight-knit community after Willis and Rawnsley allegedly used essential worker exemptions to get past Auckland's southern boundary, before travelling to Hamilton Airport and boarding a commercial flight to Queenstown.
Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday, Boult said he hears their apology - and begrudgingly accepts.
"Look, I hear their apology, I guess we accept it," he said. "There's a lot of anger and a lot of hurt down here though around their actions. A lot of people are calling for all sorts of punishments, which are probably a little over the top… we now leave it to the police to take the matter further."
News of the breach has outraged New Zealanders, particularly Aucklanders who have abided by the stringent rules now for several weeks. The couple, who have been branded as "selfish", "self-entitled" and "arrogant" on social media, continue to face the wrath of the public, with many calling for the maximum penalty to be enforced.
Although Boult believes it is now time "for some reason", he did offer some stern advice to the alleged rulebreakers.
"These people have said they did a stupid thing, they acknowledge that, they put a community in danger - thank goodness we're now assured that there is no ongoing danger. I think we should now leave it to the police to take it forward," he said.
"If I was them I probably wouldn't come back to the community for a fair old while. I think I'd put some distance between now and their next visit, that would be my best advice to them.
"It is a tight community and quite understandably people were really, really unhappy about this, right across the district… it'll take a while to get over this."
Willis' mother, District Court judge Mary-Beth Sharp - who had earlier been granted name suppression with the pair - also released a statement on Tuesday evening condemning their actions.
"Like the rest of New Zealand, I was appalled to learn of my son William and his partner's actions over the weekend," she said.
"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."
Meanwhile, the president of the Law Society has expressed disappointment in the behaviour of Rawnsley, a lawyer at an Auckland firm.
Tiana Epati told RNZ lawyers are provided with an official letter to travel to priority court hearings. She said this is the only travel permit provided to lawyers, who are not essential workers.
"If any lawyer was proved to have misused this letter, not only would that be considered a disciplinary matter but they would have let the entire legal profession down."
As the pair have admitted wrongdoing, Epati said the Law Society will look into the incident.
"Just on the basis of that, we would have to have a look at it - and that's because under the rules just bringing the reputation of the legal profession into disrepute requires looking into."