Two men found guilty for raft of drink spiking, sexual assaults of young women at popular Christchurch nightlife spots

Warning: This story discusses rape, sexual assault and date rape.

The details of two men found guilty on a total of 69 charges for drugging and sexually assaulting dozens of young women in Christchurch over a number of years can be revealed.

But their identities remain suppressed.

The two men targeted young women at the former Christchurch bar Mama Hooch. They gave them free drinks, drugged them and sexually assaulted or raped them.

The two-month trial held in March and April involved over 150 witnesses and dozens of victims. It was held under strict suppression because of a second jury trial.

When the first trial, in front of Judge Paul Mabey, eventually made it to court eight years after the offending began, the men entered not guilty pleas. But Crown prosecutor Andrew MacRae told the court the men "were fixated on sexual relations with typically young women".

The men were found guilty on almost every sex crime against them.
The men were found guilty on almost every sex crime against them. Photo credit: Newshub.

The Crown outlined the case at the start of the two-month trial, telling Judge Mabey: "When they were unable to establish consensual relations with females, notwithstanding the fact that they were all in long-standing relationships with their respective partners, they turned to means by which such sexual contact could be facilitated and typically, that meant drugs."

Police were first alerted to the case in 2018 after two young friends came forward. The pair were out one winter's evening together celebrating one of them turning just 18 years old. 

One of the men lured them from Mama Hooch down to another location - offering them free drinks and then drugging and attacking them both. 

Unlike many victims, the morning after the assault, the girls immediately sought medical tests and went to the police. 

Their complaint led the police to start looking further. A search of the police intelligence database between 2016 and 2019 disclosed 38 incidents across Canterbury, 24 of them coming from Mama Hooch.

There were initially 126 charges laid in the case dubbed Operation Sinatra - from dozens of complainants.

Mama Hooch which has later been rebranded as Gold Aroma under a new operator, but has since closed.
Mama Hooch which has later been rebranded as Gold Aroma under a new operator, but has since closed. Photo credit: Google Maps

One man would commonly spike women's drinks before groping them, often forcing them into the toilet to assault them, sometimes making them perform oral sex in the cubicle.

They would set women up for each other and send screenshots of their targets in a chat group - screenshots taken from the women's own social media.

In week two of the trial, one of the offenders changed his plea to guilty on 21 charges all related to his sexual offending but he continued to deny rape, drink spiking and drugging allegations.

He was found guilty of 41 charges including rape, indecent assault, sexual violation and charges relating to drink spiking and drugging.

His associate was found guilty of 27 including rape, sexual violation, indecent assault and charges relating to drink spiking and drugging.

There were other charges including making intimate visual recordings as one man in particular liked to film women without their knowledge. There are charges regarding women whose identity is still unknown.

Young woman after young woman took the stand over the course of the seven-week trial describing a clear pattern of behaviour - horrifying details of being drugged, left vulnerable and then sexually assaulted.

The victims described a wide range of behaviour, including memory loss, blackouts, vomiting, a weak and floppy body, women unable to control body movements, their heads spinning, feeling like being on anesthetic and displaying out-of-character behaviour such as rage. 

Many of the women flew into blistering arguments with friends after having their drinks spiked. 

The women can't be named or shown because of automatic suppression orders but they all fitted a similar pattern - young women who were mostly just trying to enjoy a night out with their friends.

On seizing the men's phones, police found a WhatsApp group a few other men communicated in with thousands of messages, sharing pictures of women, depraved descriptions of what they planned to do to them and a lot of sexually explicit material including a 14-minute rape video. 

That rape was planned the day before in a WhatsApp message. One of the offender’s posted a photo of the victim to the group chat with a sentence that said "trial tomorrow night boys, who's keen".

When that victim took the stand, she couldn't even remember who she'd even had sex with. But like many of the victims, she'd woken up the next day full of remorse and shame, blaming herself for what happened. 

She even sent her rapist a text message apologising, saying: "So I remember little to nothing from Sat night but what I did remember is being exceptionally uncomfortable with my behaviour and squirming at some of the flashbacks I'm getting lol. First off I'd like to apologise for how I acted." 

She then told him she recalled a phone videoing her and asking for it to be deleted. But he never deleted it. This woman went on to get therapy, suffering from depression and anxiety.

Many of the victims suffered deep, dark bruising to their bodies. Many took a long time to come forward to the police and only did so when articles emerged in 2018 in the media.

Most of the WhatsApp conversations are too graphic and grotesque to publish. But all the conversations were read over a period of days in court. 

One message read "sorted the Brazilian out" explaining he "smashed her in the restaurant". When asked how, he said "roofies". Roofies is a well-known colloquial name for the date rape drug, Rohypnol. The woman referred to in this conversation is still unknown to the police.

The men's defence in court to all victims was that the women had drunk more than they said and that they were willing participants in the sexual activity.

Justice Mabey handed down 93 verdicts on April 21 to a packed courtroom with some victims and their families telling them, "some of the verdicts will disappoint you, and some will please you".

There were many tears as he handed down a mixture of guilty and not guilty verdicts.

The men were found guilty on almost every sex crime against them - but they were found not guilty on many of the drugging charges. It was difficult for the Crown to prove on many occasions who specifically spiked the drinks.

Now the men are behind bars to be sentenced in July. The fight to reveal the identities behind these heinous crimes will continue at an upcoming suppression hearing in the high court.

Where to find help and support: 

Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633

Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)

Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737

What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)

Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat

Samaritans - 0800 726 666

Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757

Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584