Inside the twisted trial of Cambridge horse rider Laken Rose on child sex charges

They looked like any other couple on summer holiday.

Laken Rose and Andy Williams were taking a break in a North Island camping ground, bathed in sunshine and surrounded by native bush.

In fact, they enjoyed relaxing in the beautiful spot so much, the Cambridge residents came back for several weekends, where they spent most of their time swimming in the pool.

They mingled easily with other holidaymakers. Rose, 29, could be shy or awkward at times, but friendly, and her 52-year-old partner was charming with a good sense of humour.

If anyone took notice of the age difference between them, no one commented. They seemed happy, and relaxed.

One afternoon, an 8-year-old girl swam up to them at the pool and started following them around, even turning up unannounced at their cabin in the morning.

Her younger sister, 4, would join in playing games or watching TV, and Rose and Williams got to know their parents too.

It was all very friendly until the girls’ mother texted Laken Rose with a warning to stay away from her children.

The girls had told them what happened, their mother said, now they were talking to lawyers.

“We’ve got trouble,” Rose texted Williams.

What followed was an investigation that uncovered one of New Zealand’s most brazen child sex offenders in Williams, with the almost unbelievable accusations that his long-term partner Rose helped him do it.

The family went to the police and the two sisters told the interviewers, experts who specialise in speaking with children, that the games soon escalated from harmless fun to sexual activity.

To the detectives watching the interviews, what the girls described sounded like indecent acts, sexual violations and rape.

And the girls believed these “games” had been filmed by Laken Rose.

Darryl Brazier thought he had seen and heard it all in a long police career.

The veteran investigator has spent decades dealing with the dregs of society; dangerous gang members and drug manufacturers, armed robbers, rapists and murderers.

Now, as a detective sergeant in charge of a Child Protection Team in the Bay of Plenty, Brazier was getting depressingly accustomed to the never-ending cases of physical and sexual abuse suffered by children.

But to his way of thinking, the allegations against Williams and Rose were something else.

From how the detectives saw it, a young woman had groomed these two children – and their parents – for the sexual gratification of her much older partner Williams.

Most responsible parents would never let their young children spend time alone with a single man, no matter how decent he seemed.

But a fun-loving couple at the campground was a different story, as the mere presence of a woman would allay the fears of any protective mother or father.

Surely no child could suffer at the hands of a sexual predator with a young woman around?

The parents of the two young girls had understandably let their guard down.

But the girls’ allegations went beyond ignorance, or wilful blindness. They said Laken Rose was in the room, participating in vile acts and filming their degradation.

If the two girls were right about Rose filming the abuse, however, the existence of such footage would be compelling evidence.

Sexual offending is often difficult to prove and can come down to “he said, she said”, but video footage of the offending makes it hard to claim the complainants are lying.

After the interviews with the two girls were completed, Brazier’s team drafted up a search warrant application for Rose and Williams’ flat in Cambridge, which was granted by a judge.

Andy Williams was home when Detective Joe Meehan knocked on the door.

A collection of sex toys and children’s underwear was found in Williams’ bedside table, but his cellphone was the only digital device police found for examination.

Laken Rose had already left for work on a Cambridge horse stud but agreed to meet Detective Bryan Dudley.

She was employed to exercise horses as a track rider, and well known in the small circles of the equestrian scene.

Both were taken into the local police station for separate interviews, although gave very similar stories.

Each flatly denied any sexual behaviour took place, and claimed the accusations were a “set up”.

Williams even got up out of bed to make coffee when one of the girls climbed under the covers during an unexpected visit one morning, said Rose.


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“We were conscious of having a kid with us in the campervan,” Rose told Dudley in an interview room in the Cambridge police station.

Rose suggested their knowledge of intimate behaviour might have been learned as their parents let them watch a movie with sex scenes. “I didn’t think that was right,” Rose told Dudley, later adding one of the girls walked in on them having sex one morning.

She was adamant that none of the sexual activity described by the girls took place,

“I’m telling you that is not true,” Rose told Detective Bryan Dudley, who read her signed statement at the High Court trial on Friday.

“I would never ever let that happen.”

Williams went so far to say: “Who would believe a 9-year-old over me?”

Despite the couple’s denials, and the police having yet to find any rock-solid evidence to corroborate the accusations from the girls, Brazier decided to arrest Williams and Rose.

They were charged with sexual violation and indecent assault, and Williams was kept in custody.

Two days later, Dudley and fellow detective Joe Meehan returned to Cambridge to speak with Rose again. She gave the detectives the contact details for the families of two other young girls, who were also victims.

Later that day, Rose called Dudley back to say she had found a second phone belonging to Williams.

Four days later, on May 7, 2019, Rose called Dudley again to say she had found Williams’ laptop. She opened the computer to show the detective images of pre-pubescent young children.

Thousands and thousands of images and videos of child abuse had been downloaded off the internet for Williams’ perverted pleasure.

When police analysts started to go through the digital files, they found proof of even more serious crimes: videos and photographs of Williams performing sexual acts on young girls.

The terrible task of cataloguing each and every image was given to Sharleen Ashdown, a non-sworn police staff member in Brazier’s team.

She spent five months painstakingly reviewing each image, or video, and recording a brief description of the sex act.

Each file is placed into an A, B, or C category depending on the severity of the abuse.

All up, Ashdown estimated she spent 450 hours watching 150,000 images or videos of children being abused. Her admiring colleagues believe the true amount of time that Ashdown spent wading through the depravity was much higher.

“‘My sympathies to you,” Justice Matthew Muir would tell Ashdown much later at Rose’s trial in the High Court at Hamilton in November.

But the videos or still photographs featuring Williams and or Rose with the young girls were scrutinised even more closely to identify victims, and the scene of the crime.

The tiniest of details – Williams wearing a bracelet given to him by a victim, the decor of drab motel room, the dates from metadata – were then compared with other evidence gleaned by the inquiry.

Among the thousands of text messages between Rose and Williams were conversations about their victims, often discussed in excruciatingly sexual terms.

The two original complainants soon became four after Laken Rose gave the police two more names.

Four became five when Dudley confronted Rose about videos of herself having sex with a 14-year-old girl. She said: “I don’t really remember that year, at all”. Five became six.

With the identification of each victim, the police had to carefully question the girls – if they were old enough – and their parents, before delicately informing them of the abuse of their daughter.

Video footage of a seventh victim was found on Williams’ laptop, although the police never identified her.

One looked to be 13 or 14, the youngest turned out to be just 3.

Brazier had never seen anything like it.

Although New Zealand’s criminal history is unfortunately littered with men who have preyed on young children, and even a few women who have groomed teenage girls for the sexual pleasure of their male partner, there’s never been a combination of the two.

A young woman who groomed under-age girls for a sexual monster, even participating in some of the sexual abuse, and filming everything for his ongoing perverse gratification.

Her behaviour begs the question: what could possibly possess Laken Rose to allow such unspeakable things to happen?

Fear was her explanation.

In an interview with Dudley at the Tauranga police station on May 22, 2019, her lawyer Philip Morgan QC seated beside her, Rose described her decade-long relationship with Williams.

They met at the Horse of the Year show in Hastings in 2009; Rose was 19, Williams was 42.

Dudley informed her that the police had examined her phone, and Williams’ phone, and found messages in which they discussed having sex with underage girls.

“It was just talk…to stop it happening,” said Rose, explaining that she told Williams what he wanted to hear. To keep her boyfriend happy.

The first time she suspected anything was off was when the couple were babysitting for friends of Williams.

Rose found him sitting in the bath with the young girl they were supposed to be caring for. When she refused to take photos, Rose claimed Williams put her “head through a wall”.

To protect the child from further harm, Rose said she broke off the friendship with the girl’s mother.

When asked about the 3-year-old daughter of another friend, Rose said she saw videos of Williams abusing the toddler on his phone.

“He told me if I told anyone I wouldn’t survive the week,” Rose told Dudley.

When Dudley asked about videos in which she could be seen having sex with a 14-year-old, Rose said she couldn’t remember. She was so frightened of Williams, Rose told the police she had a complete mental breakdown.

“He strangled me, he beat me, he made me feel worthless. He took me away from everyone, no one would ever help me or love me,” Rose told Dudley.

“I would do anything to survive, I would do whatever he told me to do, or he would kill me. I don’t remember…I don’t think I want to remember.”

It was a line of defence she maintained to the bitter end. Faced with overwhelming evidence at the start of their trial in the High Court at Hamilton, Andrew Alan Williams pleaded guilty to 56 charges of sexual offending against seven victims.

Rape, sexual violations, indecent assaults, making objectionable material, possession of objectionable material and inducing a young person to commit a decent act; the 54-year-old admitted offending against the victims, aged 3 to 14, over a five-year period.

The English-born Williams will be sentenced next February. The maximum sentence for sexual violation by rape, the most serious charge he admitted, is 20 years in prison.

Williams could even be a candidate for preventive detention. The punishment is an indeterminate prison sentence, where inmates can be released by the Parole Board – if they are no longer a risk to society – but remain managed by Corrections and can be recalled to prison at any time.

Joining Williams in the dock for sentencing will be Laken Rose, now 31. During the trial, she pleaded guilty to nine charges of inducing an indecent act on a young person, and a further charge of making a film showing the sexual exploitation of a young girl knowing the video was objectionable.

On those convictions, the maximum sentence for the filming offence is 14 years in prison.

She pleaded not guilty to 50 other charges – including rape and sexual violation – but if convicted, Rose could receive the longest sentence in New Zealand history for sexual offending by a woman.

It all rests on the ruling of Justice Matthew Muir, as the defence elected a judge to hear the evidence alone without a jury, and what the High Court judge made of Rose’s evidence from the witness box.

For most of the charges she faced, Rose relied on the defence of compulsion. Section 24 of the Crimes Act 1961 states that anyone: “commits an offence under compulsion by threats of immediate death or grievous bodily harm from a person who is present when the offence is committed is protected from criminal responsibility if he (or she) believes that the threats will be carried out”.

Compulsion is often called a “battered woman” defence, most often used by lawyers defending a woman who suffered violence at the hands of her male partner.

The threshold for a successful defence is considered in legal circles to be high, and New Zealand courts have interpreted the law strictly.

To be successful, there must be a threat to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. Second, the threat would be carried out immediately following a refusal to commit the offence.

Third, the person making the threat must be present when the crime is committed. Finally, the accused must commit the offence in the belief that otherwise the
threat will be carried out immediately.

“It is that belief in the inevitability of immediate and violent retribution for failure on his part to comply with the threatening demand which provides the justification for exculpation from criminal responsibility,” is how the Law Commission once described compulsion.

The defence was created with a “standover” situation in mind, where a defendant might literally have a gun to their head.

In a report published in 2000, the Law Commission essentially said the strict requirements were too high for women suffering domestic violence.

Often such defendants could commit a crime not because of a specific immediate threat, as required to meet the compulsion criteria, but in general fearfulness of their partners.

The women knew they would suffer the consequences if they didn’t do what they were told.

Such circumstances did not meet the test for compulsion, said the Law Commission, which recommended the law be amended.

“If the defence is intended to excuse those who act out of fear of dire consequences, it does not logically need to be limited to immediate retaliation,” wrote the Law Commission.

“Behaviour brought about by the honest belief that the threatened retaliation will inevitably occur is nonetheless coerced behaviour. The use of the word ‘inevitably’ rather than immediate may therefore be preferable.” The law never changed.

In giving evidence in her own defence, Laken Rose said her relationship with Andrew Williams was “intense”.

Born and bred in Dannevirke, Rose grew up riding horses and started working in the horse industry when she left school.

She was competing in showjumping and eventing competitions when she met Andrew Williams, who was the uncle of one of her friends.

She was 19 at the time, Williams was 42. Within weeks, Williams had moved into her flat. A few months later, Williams leased another house on a block of land where Rose could keep her horses.

Moving to the rural property about 20 minutes from Dannevirke had the effect of isolating Rose from her family and friends.

“He was very controlling. He controlled all the money, even the food.”

This controlled extended to their sex life, Rose told the High Court.

“He told me very early in the relationship, we would have sex when he wanted sex,” said Rose.

“He would dress me up as a school girl, put me in pigtails and I would have to perform sex acts on him that I was not comfortable with.”

One day, Rose said Williams’ controlling behaviour crossed the line into violence.

“He grabbed me by the neck and yelled ‘Why do you have to make me so angry, why can’t you keep me happy?’ and told me I was worthless,” said Laken Rose, describing the first time Williams allegedly strangled her.

“I couldn’t breathe. He completely overpowered me.”

So why then, asked her defence lawyer Philip Morgan, QC, did she stay?

“I did love him, I didn’t want to hurt him.”

After a while, Williams and Rose moved to Auckland. Rose said Williams continued to completely control her life, to the point that money she earned would be transferred into his bank account.

Rose said Williams pressured her to find women to engage in “threesome” sexual encounters, as well as showing her photos of naked teenage girls.

“I completely freaked out, I said that wasn’t right.”

Rose said she was so frightened of Williams’ temper, that she agreed to hold a laptop or phone so Williams could see the photographs of the teenage girls while having sex with her.

“I was scared to make him mad. I knew what happened when I didn’t do what I was told,” said Rose.

Constant fear and pressure to fulfil his deviant sexual proclivities, said Rose, was the reason she agreed to find girls for Williams.

She told Justice Muir she arranged for Williams to spend time with the girls in the belief that he just wanted to photograph them. When Williams went further to sexually abuse the girls, Rose said she was too scared to stop him.

In an effort to explain away text messages in which Rose and Williams talked about their victims in explicit sexual terms, Rose said she would say what he wanted to hear, just to keep him “happy”.

“I would tell him I was working on a girl but it would all blow up. The outcome for me wasn’t good. Andrew got incredibly mad at me, shout at me, get violent with me, that he would kill me, harm my family and animals.”

Her story was questioned for hours by Anna Pollett, the Crown Solicitor for Tauranga, who cross-examined her about various text message conversations between the couple. Not one threat was uttered by Williams, Pollett pointed out, to which Rose retorted he “wasn’t stupid”.

Nor were there any records of injuries from the alleged beatings, to which Rose said she explained any marks or bruises as the result of falling from a horse.

If Rose was so scared of Williams, Pollett suggested her first interview with Detective Bryan Dudley in May 2019 was the “perfect opportunity” to break free.

“At this stage, I did not believe the police could keep me safe from him,” said Rose.

“In hindsight yes, but at the time in the mental state I was in, I was terrified of Andrew. I did what he told me to do, to cover it up.”

Pollett: “It’s a fiction, isn’t it?”

Rose: “No”.

Is Laken Rose a devious young woman who plotted with her partner to groom young girls for their mutual pleasure, as the Crown alleged?

Or a battered young woman, as the defence claimed, too scared of her partner to say no?

There was a third possibility, mused Justice Muir. She was an insecure young woman with low self-esteem, in a relationship with a controlling, manipulative older man, who would do anything to keep him happy.

At times it seemed the scarcely believable details of the case weighed heavily on Justice Muir, in what would be the most high profile criminal trial the former commercial litigation expert has presided over.

Normally 12 jurors weigh up the evidence as the “fact finders” and are guided by the trial judge on points of law, but in this case the defence decided to put Laken Rose’s fate in the hands of Justice Muir alone.

It’s doubtful a jury would be able to get through watching the disturbing video evidence, as Justice Muir has, let alone set aside their prejudice when deciding on Rose’s guilt or innocence.

At the end of the trial on Monday, he took a moment to thank Pollett and Morgan for their professionalism.

For such a complicated trial, Justice Muir noted neither had the assistance of a younger lawyer to wrangle witnesses and the evidence.

“I suspect this is probably a deliberate decision to protect them, although it’s placed a particularly heavy burden on you.”

He hoped to release his ruling before Christmas but could not make a commitment to do so, given the complexities of the competing arguments and threats of evidence.

“Then I’d like to press the erase button.”

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