Former All Black sentenced for punching woman in the face in 'appalling act'

A former All Black sentenced for punching a woman in the face can now be named as Zac Guildford.

The incident, described as savage and appalling, happened in 2019, in a car, when Guildford was extremely intoxicated.

“The brutality and considerable force behind the blow is illustrated by the nature of the injuries caused to the victim,” Justice Paul Davison QC wrote in a decision released after an appeal in the High Court at Hamilton.

“It was clearly serious offending, and the fact that it took place in the context of the appellant being severely intoxicated by alcohol is no excuse whatsoever.”

Guildford fought for permanent name suppression at his January sentencing, at the Hamilton District Court, after previously pleading guilty to a charge of male assaults female.

A request for permanent name suppression was denied by Judge Robert Spear at sentencing. However, Guildford’s lawyer immediately sought leave to appeal that decision.

Guildford also appealed the sentence of two years of intensive supervision, but Justice Davison said that was lenient given his offending.

The appeal was heard in the High Court in Hamilton in February, and Justice Davison released his decision late March – saying the public should know Guildford was behind the assault.

However, Guildford’s name couldn’t be published until now, to allow time for him to appeal the decision if he desired.

Guildford spoke to Stuff on Wednesday saying he had chosen not to appeal again because he wanted to come clean and “take off his mask”.

“Through this whole thing I’ve tried to front up and take ownership of it, although it might not seem like it due to wanting name suppression.

“That’s because I was still hiding behind a lot of guilt and shame, but also still chasing the rugby dream. “Now in the job that I do love, I encourage other men to take their mask off, so evidently I’m taking mine off too.”

Justice Davison said even if there was a lot of media publicity about the case, the inevitable embarrassment and sense of shame for Guildford “are no more than would be the usual consequences of publicity to other persons convicted of similar offending whose offending is reported in the media”.

Nor could suppression continue based on “the mere possibility” of some ill-informed or possibly harmful social media commentary.

Now it has lapsed, more details of the case – described by the judge as “an appalling act” – can now be reported.

That includes that the assault occurred about 11.30pm on December 20, 2019, in the Napier suburb of Taradale and while Guildford was extremely intoxicated.

The victim was sitting in the front passenger seat of a car, with Guildford in the rear, when, without warning, he punched her in the face.

As the court heard, neither the victim nor the man could remember what spurred the assault, although it was apparently sparked by a remark about a family member.

The victim, who now lives overseas, was scheduled to fly out of the country the day after the incident, and had to do so with bruising over her face. She still has issues with breathing through her nose.

“This was a savage blow delivered to an unsuspecting woman that caused significant injury,” Judge Spear said.

“You could well have been charged with a more serious offence than this.”

At Guildford's sentencing on January 15, his lawyer Rob Quin​ sought a conviction and discharge and permanent name suppression.

He said Guildford had achieved fame as a young man, and had found it difficult.

“There have been troubles along the way,” Quin said.

His client was “extremely embarrassed” and regretted the punching incident.

Quin said Guildford had been in discussions with a view to obtaining a contract to play rugby for a club in Western Australia, which could potentially lead to a place in the Western Force Super Rugby team.

Any sentence more than a conviction and discharge would likely prevent that from happening.

Police prosecutor Sergeant Andrew Kennedy said the Western Australian club had not offered Guildford a playing contract.

He had not informed the club of his latest conviction, or the fact he was applying for name suppression.

“Such facts should not be hidden from an employer, and they should be able to make an informed decision that Mr Guildford is a suitable person for that club.”

After the appeal, Justice Davison agreed that any potential employers should know what Guildford was capable of doing when affected by alcohol.

“The loss of employment opportunities cannot be an unexpected consequence of offending that involved drunken violence against a woman,” he wrote.

He also dismissed Guildford’s appeal against his sentence.

“Having regard to the gravity of the offending, the sentence of two years’ intensive supervision was in my view lenient, and one which was primarily directed at the appellant’s rehabilitation rather than punishment,” he wrote.

“The [sentencing] judge explained that it was intended as a ‘lifeline’ rather than a straitjacket.”

Guildford was a member of the All Blacks squad that won the 2011 World Cup, but his career nosedived afterwards because of issues with alcohol and mental health.

In 2011, he was cited after a drunken assault in Rarotonga.

In sentencing, Judge Spear noted that Guildford had achieved a degree of infamy for that and other incidents were for “drunken activity of some nature”.

He told Guildford: “You are in desperate need to take counselling for the alcohol abuse … You are a binge drinker.

“There is no alternative but for this court to help you deal with the problems that you are not capable of dealing with yourself,” the judge said.

While the intensive supervision “might appear to you to be a straitjacket, I hope you realise in time it is a lifeline”.

Guildford apologises

The 32-year-old has apologised to his victim personally, and took part in a reconciliation meeting through the Ministry of Justice’s restorative justice programme.

“I’d like to apologise to the victim. I have done everything in my power to express my sincere apologies. I’m ashamed of what happened... it happened back in 2019 when I was going through a number of mental health and addiction challenges.

“I think we’re on a mutual ground where she genuinely knows it was a bad mistake, and I’m paying the price for it now, and it will never happen again.”

Guildford said he was anxious about the media attention he was likely to get as soon as his name was made public.

“If I’m being honest, it’s scary, I’m myself.

“It’s hard enough to deal with it in my own stress, but for the rest of New Zealand to know about it too, also causes a lot of anxiety, but the one thing I’ve got to do is take ownership of this.”

Guildford has been working as mental health support worker in Wairarapa for several months, most recently as a suicide prevention and post-vention co-ordinator.

Guildford was interviewed by Stuff in December about his then new role as a community support worker at Te Hauora Rununga o Wairarapa​​, where he was working with people in domestic violence, but did not mention he was facing a conviction himself.

“I hated having that mask on and not being able to be completely open, but because of the court proceedings I couldn’t.

“I was asked to do that interview multiple times. If I could have come clean then, in hindsight, I would have.”

His current employer, mental health and addiction service provider Yellow Brick Road, said they knew about his conviction before taking him on.

"Yellow Brick Road was aware of it, but was confident in him going forward. His empathy with people with mental health challenges is what counts, and his determination to help others," said chief executive Vicki Lee​​.

At the start of the year, Guildford still held aspirations to pursue a career in rugby, but his focus has now shifted.

“The reason why I had name suppression at first was because I still wanted to play rugby at a high level.

“But since being in this role of suicide prevention, I was shown my purpose and where I want to go in life.

“It’s a really rewarding job but it also allows me to do a lot of work on self.”