December 20, 2019

Bucks' night death haunts family and friends

When childhood buddies reunited in Sydney for a mate's wedding, tragedy ensued. The widow of the dead man says charges of manslaughter help no one.

GREG Wood's widow, Kirsten, does not hold anyone accountable for her husband's sudden death following a drug and alcohol-fuelled bucks' party in 2009. She says his family also wish the matter could be laid to rest.

And yet, one of Greg Wood's best mates from childhood, Daniel Gray, has been charged with his manslaughter.

After a long night trawling Sydney's pubs and clubs, Wood persuaded Gray to try heroin with him, despite neither man having used the drug before. A short time after injecting each other back at their hotel, Wood died.

Kirsten does not blame Gray for her husband's death, writing an impassioned plea to the New South Wales State Coroner, Mary Jerram, asking that the matter end with the inquest into his death so she could move on with her life.

''I am sure it would further extenuate mine and Greg's family's grieving,'' she wrote of the prospect of the matter going to trial.

Despite her request, Gray has been charged and he appeared briefly at an arraignment hearing at Sydney's Downing Centre District Court on Friday. His case is set to go to trial in February.

By that time, more than four years will have passed since Wood's death at the age of 33 in room 1421 of the Citigate Hotel in Haymarket, following the bucks' night of his friend, Mark Nees.

Wood, Gray and Nees were childhood friends from New Zealand, where they attended school together. Over the years, they had travelled, built their professional careers and partied. When Nees announced he was going to get married, he asked Wood to be his best man.

Wood, who was living in London with Kirsten, flew to Sydney via New Zealand where he had spent Christmas 2008 with friends and family.

Life was good for the couple, both of whom had solid careers and had just announced they were expecting their first child.

He arrived in Sydney on January 2, 2009, leaving Kirsten to travel alone to Tasmania where she was visiting a friend. The couple intended to reunite on the mainland on January 7 to prepare for Nees' wedding.

Nees had booked three rooms at the Citigate hotel in Haymarket, where his friends were to spend the night of the party on Saturday, January 3.

The evening started, as bucks' nights often do, with a few drinks at the hotel. The prosecution's statement of facts notes that some cocaine was consumed. The group of men, mostly aged in their early 30s, continued to the Cargo Bar at King Street Wharf, where they met fellow guests, drank and are understood to have consumed more cocaine before embarking on a harbour cruise.

While the 20 guests were watching the sun set over the harbour on that warm summer night, Gray flew in from Perth, where he works as an off-shore oil rigger, arriving in Sydney about 6.20pm. He dropped his belongings at the Citigate hotel before meeting up with his friends.

Gray's solicitor, Hugo Aston, describes his client as a decent, hard-working man.

What followed next is typical of many celebrations that take place before a man makes a commitment to the woman he loves. The group went on a pub crawl of some of Sydney's popular night spots including the Clock Hotel in Crown Street, Surry Hills, and the Trinity Bar, a short distance south.

They moved on to the Strand Hotel on William Street, East Sydney, where the drinking continued into the early hours of Sunday morning.

One guest reported seeing Wood handing out ecstasy tablets about 2.30am, according to a police statement of facts.

By 3.30am, Wood and Gray were both refused service at the Strand due to their level of intoxication. The pair left the bar and went to Scruffy Murphy's at Haymarket where they stayed until closing at 5am. CCTV footage from the Citigate shows the pair returning to the hotel at 5.06am.

Once in room 1421, Wood told Gray he wanted to try heroin. Neither man had used the drug before. Gray told police he was reluctant.

In an extract from a police statement read out at the NSW Coroner's Court, where an inquest into Wood's death was heard in September last year, Gray described Wood as anxious to try heroin.

''I've got to, we want to do it,'' Wood had said, Gray told police. ''I'll be safe with you Dan … We'll go do it, I can't wait to do it, you know.''

The pair caught a taxi to Kings Cross, where Wood purchased a small amount of what they believed to be heroin contained in a purple water balloon for $100. Its precise contents are unknown, but it was estimated to be about a quarter of a gram of approximately 20 per cent pure heroin.

They returned to room 1421 where they were unable to inject themselves due to their level of intoxication. They decided to inject each other.

According to Gray's statement to police, Wood fell asleep immediately and began snoring.

Believing nothing was awry with his friend and feeling nauseous, Gray went to room 1426, where he had left his belongings on Saturday night. He woke up one of the fellow guests, Benjamin Hunt, who went to room 1421 where he had left his possessions.

Hunt gave evidence via telephone from New Zealand at the coronial inquest, where he said that he saw Wood on the bed and thought he looked unwell but not seriously so.

''He looked like someone who had just been at a big night and just - like I couldn't be for sure but there was a slight tint of, you know, purple or blue,'' he said.

''Nothing I thought, you know, could suggest that he was, you know, dead, I guess.''

Thinking his friend was sleeping it off, Hunt took his belongings and had a shower. Up to 30 minutes later, he returned to room 1421 where the scene had changed dramatically.

He found Gray performing CPR on Wood, later telling the police that Gray was ''freaking out a bit''. The pair attempted to resuscitate Wood, calling hotel reception and asking for an ambulance.

The call was placed shortly before 10am and an ambulance officer was on the scene at 10.16am. After a number of different attempts to revive him he was pronounced dead at 10.29am.

As Kirsten Wood wrote in a letter to Mary Jerram, the NSW State Coroner who oversaw the coronial inquest, her husband's sudden death caused inestimable trauma.

''His death came as a huge shock to all his friends and family and he has been a significant loss to me,'' she said. ''It changed my world completely and I returned to live in New Zealand from London to be closer to my family, particularly with a new baby on the way.

''Over the past two years I have often thought how could he have been so selfish and stupid to be taking a multitude of drugs that evening. But, to be honest, that was Woody. Always pushing the limits, thinking of consequences later, somehow believing he was invincible.''

Kirsten, now raising her three-year-old daughter and working in a senior managerial position in Christchurch, does not blame Gray for her husband's death.

''Myself, Greg's family and I'm sure Greg himself, would not support or want any further action as a result of Greg's death to be taken against anyone, including Dan Gray,'' she wrote in the letter that was tendered to the NSW Coroner's Court.

''I can't emphasise my own and Greg's family's views on this enough. It's taken a lot for me to get through the past 2½ years and I don't feel further consequences post this inquest would be appropriate. I'm sure it would also further extenuate mine and Greg's family's grieving.''

Magistrate Mary Jerram took Kirsten's view into account at the inquest, describing her letter as thoughtful and intelligent. She noted also that Gray, who attended the inquest but did not give evidence, has been ''crushed'' by the tragedy.

On September 29 she suspended the inquest and referred the matter to the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions. The DPP decided to charge Gray with manslaughter.

At Friday's hearing, a red-eyed and downcast Gray sat silent through proceedings. His barrister, David Price, indicated he would plead not guilty at next year's trial.

Original Source: Click Here

Hugo Aston

Barrister | Arbitrator | Mediator
BA, LLB, MAIFLAM, PRI, FDRP, GDLP, Arb 1, Adj
Supreme Court of TAS + NSW
High Court of Australia
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Clarence Chambers
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