Hundreds of mobile phone calls were exchanged over three months between a 14-year-old girl and a 41-year-old man accused of abducting her in July, a court was told on Friday.
Craig Howard had made 693 calls to the girl between April 1 and July 5 this year, community magistrate Robyn Paterson was told at a depositions hearing in Tauranga District Court.
In turn, the Mount Maunganui schoolgirl rang the Waikato father of seven, who is also a grandfather, 963 times.
Neither total included regular text messaging between the pair.
In a video interview played to the court, the now 15-year-old insisted: “He didn’t abduct me, I abducted him.”
She denied there was an “actual” relationship between them or that there was any sexual activity — “I am not like that”.
She said she regarded Howard as a father figure, a protector and someone she could talk to because she was unhappy at home and school.
“He is the only person who understands me,” she said.
The teen said running away together was entirely her idea and “Craig thought it was a foolish idea”.
She had befriended him a few months earlier after they met on a family holiday at the Waingaro hot springs in Waikato where he worked and lived in a caravan.
The pair were on the run for 12 days, sleeping in his car, mainly around the Bay of Plenty, Coromandel and Waikato. They also visited Auckland and Gisborne.
She said they were both naked in the hot pools in Rotorua, where police eventually found them about 11pm on July 15, because her boxers and T-shirt were drying in the car.
“He didn’t do anything dodgy to me. He kept me alive, safe and warm.”
Part way through the 90-minute video, Howard suddenly disrupted proceedings.
Wiping his eyes, the accused stood up and said: “It’s hurting my feelings.”
Community magistrate: “Your feelings are not a concern of the court today.”
Paterson told Howard she would prefer him to sit through the evidence “but we can hear it without you”.
After a short adjournment, Howard sat quietly, eyes closed for minutes at a time and at one stage tears trickling down his cheeks.
The teen, who admitted cutting herself in the past, said Howard tried to persuade her it would be stupid to run away.
Her response was if he didn’t, “I wasn’t going to be here tomorrow. I meant I would be dead. The only reason he came to get me was to save me”.
Howard suggested taking her to the hospital “to see if I had depression or something”.
While on the road trip he told her to text her friends and let them know she was alright.
Following the video screening, the teen was questioned by police prosecutor David Pawson who sought identification of photographic items found in the glove box of Howard’s car.
Asked who a packet of condoms belonged to, she said: “They are certainly not mine.”
A length of cable and some binding tape were, she assumed, Howard’s. But she didn’t know what they were there for.
Howard’s lawyer, Craig Tuck, accepted a prima facie case had been established and entered a not guilty plea to the abduction charge.
Howard was remanded on bail for a callover on December 11.