Senior lawyers and a magistrate hearing charges in a prominent sex crimes case were fighting for their credibility yesterday after pictures were published of the trio wearing fake breasts and tinsel wigs.
Prosecutor Simon Moore, his assistant Christine Gordon and magistrate Gray Cameron were photographed on a charter boat returning from Pitcairn Island, where they had conducted an initial hearing against seven men charged with rape, gross indecency with children and indecent assault.
The defendants are among 13 current and former residents charged with sex offenses against women and girls on the tiny, isolated island in the mid-Pacific Ocean. Pitcairn has a population of just 44.
New Zealand is conducting the trial -- which begins next month -- on behalf of Britain, which administers the island.
The three said they put on the costumes during the April voyage as part of a shipboard "ritual." Moore and Gordon said the captain invited them to take part and that it would have been "rude" to refuse.
"In the spirit of that moment and clearly viewing it as the ritual it appeared to be, [we] put the wig and plastic breasts on for a brief period of time," said Moore, an Auckland-based government lawyer. "It was a couple of minutes or so of lightheartedness in the middle of the ocean."
Moore, who apologized to anyone offended by the photographs, is one of New Zealand's top criminal prosecutors. Cameron had been presiding magistrate, but is no longer involved in the trial.
Auckland lawyer Paul Dacre, acting for the seven Pitcairn men, said he would talk to his clients about whether they will seek to take legal action over the matter.
He said the situation was "complex and unusual," and Pitcairn Islanders had already complained about the lawyers' behavior. Dacre was not able to say what action could be taken.
Reeve Cooze, who lived on the island for 16 years, said the integrity of the New Zealanders was gone. The prosecutors should step down and the photographs showed "bad taste," he said.
In Wellington, a spokesman for the British High Commission, said the pictures did not compromise the prosecution.
At the request of the UK, New Zealand has passed a special law enabling the Pitcairn Supreme Court to relocate to Auckland, New Zealand, for the trials.