The Supreme Court has freed a man charged with four counts of carnal knowledge of a girl under 15.
Lord Chief Justice Paulsen found Sione Tautu’a’a afu not guilty on the grounds that he honestly believed the girl to be 18.
The offences were alleged to have occurred on August 7-8, 2017.
The court was told that the girl, referred to in the proceedings as K, and her sister, had run away from home and met the accused in the bush.
They stayed with him and another man and during this period K and Tautu’a’a afu had sex four times.
K said she initiated the sexual contact.
Tautu’a’a afu, who represented himself in court, put it to K that she had told him she was 18.
Evidence was given that at the time she was 13 years and 11 months old.
At the time Tautu’a’a afu was 17.
In an interview with police he said the girls had lived with him for about a month and that they had not told him they had run away.
Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said he was satisfied that Tautu’a’a afu honestly believed on reasonable grounds that K was over the age of 14.
“She could certainly be mistaken for someone older than her years,” the judge said.
He said Tautu’a’a afu had asked K three times how old she was.
The judge found Tautu’a’a afu not guilty on all four counts.