Tagata Pasifika The Pacific voice on New Zealand television since 1987

Heartbreak for Wellington family who want their dad home for Xmas

Update: A Givealittle page has now been set up to help support Luka and his family. People can donate here.

Sucker punch, coward’s punch or king hit is a vicious attack made without warning or while the victim is distracted, giving them no time to defend themselves. This type of assault has led to lifelong effects of brain injury and even death. John Pulu spoke to a Niuean man who says he is a victim of this kind of attack. His family are sharing their experience to raise awareness about this crime.

Luka Jackson-Gibb has represented Niue in rugby league and even captained teams overseas.

Sport was his life. But in April this year he was left fighting for his life.

Barely able to speak clearly, Luka says: “It’s hard work, hard work, but I have to work hard and fight every day to try and get better.”

The father of five boys has a severe brain injury, crippling the former athlete who is learning to walk and talk again.

In April this year Luka was coaching his son’s junior rugby league match in Lower Hutt when he got into an argument with a parent from the other team. It’s alleged that parent punched Luka in the head from behind — all of this unfolding right in front of his wife and children.

Luka’s wife, Gene Solia-Gibb, remembers that day vividly.

“They cry every night. I’ve let them know that it’s ok to cry, you know. It’s interesting to see how they deal with this kind of grief,” she says.

coward's punch Wellington victim Luka
Luka in hospital following the attack. Photo: Supplied

The emotional mum has adjusted to their new way of life to look after the children and care for her husband.

“I know it’s permanent,” she says.

“That’s hard. That’s been one of the things for me to accept, but I know that when you do accept it, you know, you’re kind of set free; you’ve got a new road to follow,” Gene says.

The children have also learnt to accept the situation and are all helping take care of their dad.

“I miss him at home like… our car rides, when he tickles me, when I sleep with him. Yeah,” says Falaniko Solia-Gibb.

Luka stays at the rehab clinic where he gets plenty of support from staff.

“The experts in there are really working with him to make sure he does it right each time, and when it’s kind of not becoming right, you stop. You know it’s very much like coaching and training,”
says medical director Dr Robin Sekerak.

The man who allegedly hit Luka will face a jury trial next month. But for now, all the family can do is wait.

“Justice (has) to be served. What I want most of all is just for Luka to come home to us. I don’t care what state he is (in), you know. I can care for him,” Gene says.

coward's punch victim Luka's wife Gene Solia-Gibb.
“He’s our superman. I am just wearing his cape for now; he’s loaning me the cape,” says Luka’s wife Gene. Photo: Tagata Pasifika

In 2018 parliament rejected a bill in its first reading to create a coward punch offence with a maximum of 20 years jail time. Critics say this means there’s absolutely no deterrent to make people think twice about this type of attack.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern cautioned against creating new laws for individual sets of circumstances, as there is existing legislation that could address the serious assaults adequately.

However mixed martial arts champion Israel Adesanya is urging the New Zealand government to change the law and introduce a harsher punishment for people who commit the attack.

He was also hit from behind in 2012, and this year he lost a friend and fellow fighter, Tongan Fau Vake, to a similar crime.

Israel Adesanya is calling for tougher coward's punch laws. Photo: John Pulu, Tagata Pasifika
MMA champion Israel Adesanya. Photo: John Pulu, Tagata Pasifika

“For me, it hits home because I’ve experienced it but I’ve also seen the implications that it has on the bro’s family, you know… He’s got a daughter that, you know… she’s really young, she’s asking, ‘Where’s Dad?’ and I guess she still doesn’t understand that her father is not coming back.”

Adesanya says the coward’s punch law is already in place in Australia. So far an online petition set up in the wake of Fau’s death calling for harsher coward punch laws has collected more than 26,000 signatures.

City Kickboxing lost Tongan Fau Vake to a coward's punch earlier this year
City Kickboxing lost friend and fighter Tongan Fau Vake to a fatal attack earlier this year.

Fellow trainer Eugene Bareman says his concern is that this kind of crime is happening too often. Many have been in touch with him who have also been victims. He suspects there are many more cases that are not reported.

“We want to put our best foot forward and be advocates against this crime and let people know that this crime needs stricter punishment, and if we can bring attention to it… that’s how change occurs,” Eugene says.

Back in Wellington, the Gibb family are taking each day as it comes without Luka.

“He’s our superman. I am just wearing his cape for now; he’s loaning me the cape,” Gene says.

She travels to the clinic daily, but there’s only one thing this family want.

“I hope he comes back home for Christmas,” Falaniko says.

It’s motivation that keeps Luka fighting.

With difficulty he says, “I think of my kids and wife like I’m walking to them and just try, and they keep me going.”

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