Man who hid evidence after US polo player’s death loses conviction appeal

Joseph Douglas McGirr on the first day of his trial in the Christchurch Distric Court.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Stuff

Joseph Douglas McGirr on the first day of his trial in the Christchurch Distric Court.

A Christchurch engineer who hid the clothes of a budding young American polo player after she overdosed in his spa pool and died has failed to have his conviction overturned.

Earlier this year, Joseph Douglas McGirr was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment on charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice and cultivating cannabis.

This came after 22-year-old Lauren Biddle died in the spa pool at McGirr’s Christchurch home on October 22, 2018 after she took an overdose of ecstasy.

Lauren Biddle had been in New Zealand for less than two weeks when she died.

SUPPLIED

Lauren Biddle had been in New Zealand for less than two weeks when she died.

After Biddle’s death, McGirr was charged with supplying a class B controlled drug to her, but a jury found him not guilty of this charge.

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He was, however, convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice after he frantically cleaned the house before police arrived.

McGirr put the lid back on the spa, threw away bottles and cans, and pulled cannabis plants from pots and threw them into the overgrowth in front of the house. He also took Biddle’s clothes and bag and buried it in an overgrown section in front of his house.

McGirr was jailed after a judge said he did not think a sentence of home detention was appropriate, but his sentence was later commuted to a non-custodial sentence at an Auckland rehabilitation facility.

Stuff

American woman Lauren Biddle had been in New Zealand for less than two weeks before she died of a drug overdose in Christchurch in 2018. (Video first published in November 2020)

He appealed his conviction on the grounds that a miscarriage of justice had occurred during his trial when the judge misdirected the jury as to the grounds for conviction.

In a series of questions, the judge asked the jury to consider whether they were sure that at the time McGirr concealed Biddle’s clothing, he knew “that a police investigation into Ms Biddle’s death was either underway, or inevitable”.

McGirr’s lawyer argued that because a police investigation does not in itself form part of “the course of justice”, the question trail should have referred to “judicial proceedings” rather than a police investigation.

Lauren Biddle's bag, and jandals were found in the overgrowth in front of Joseph Douglas McGirr's home.

NZ Police

Lauren Biddle’s bag, and jandals were found in the overgrowth in front of Joseph Douglas McGirr’s home.

He said that given the circumstances of Biddle’s death, a police investigation of some sort was likely, and therefore it was all the more important that the focus of McGirr’s actions should have been on possible judicial proceedings and not on a police investigation.

The Crown opposed this argument by saying that as McGirr intended to hinder or obstruct the police investigation, the irrefutable inference was that he intended to hinder or obstruct the prosecution as well.

The Court of Appeal accepted that a police investigation into possible offences does not form part of the course of justice. However, it was apparent from the jury’s verdict that they did not accept McGirr’s explanation that he buried Biddle’s clothes in an effort to “commemorate” her, it said.

“We are not satisfied there was any material misdirection which could be viewed as resulting in a miscarriage of justice.”

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