Name Suppression V. The Rights Of The Child In New Zealand – Updated

20 May 2010

You may remember the “well respected” professional man in Palmerston North, Manawatu,  who was uncovered with 300,000 pornographic images on his computer after being caught in an FBI operation, many of them were of children.

He was given name suppression and sentenced to 4 months home detention.

You may also recall the ‘world famous in NZ’ muso (we use the term loosely) that was also given name suppression and discharged after pleading guilty to the sexual assault of a 16 year old girl.

One case that is presently before the court in Wellington shows how the cult of status may be being used to protect alleged wrong doers in New Zealand: people who really should know better and be setting an example to the rest of the community.

Accused public servant a gentle fellow
“A father is accused of assaulting his son after he allegedly stole $700 from his mother.

The crown’s case rests on the boy’s initial testimony that his father dragged him down Manners Mall then pushed him into his car where he repeatedly punched him in the head…

But the boy later retracted his comments.

It just so happens that the boy’s father is a high profile public servant who has been granted name suppression. One can imagine the pressure this kid is under to stop dad from picking up a criminal record and losing his job.

“If there was any contact at all it was all unintentional,” he told the court via video link on Tuesday.

During cross examination of the defendant today, crown prosecutor Paul Dacre cited the boy’s initial statement in which he said his father had threatened to break his legs, and had punched him before and after pushing him into the car.

He also reminded the jury of three witnesses’ saying that they had seen the man punching the boy in the car.

“You hit him as punishment for taking the money. You said he was a thief and you were treating him like a thief,” he told the court.

So, is that how thieves are really supposed to be treated in New Zealand? so much for informing them of their rights and giving them access to legal representation.

But the man said the witnesses must have mistaken his removing the boy’s bag – bought with the stolen money along with a new cellphone – for punching…

The NBR gives a few more relevant details:

The jury at the Wellington District Court was shown a recording of a police interview with the complainant in which he said that his dad assaulted him after finding him on Manners Street near the McDonald’s fast food restaurant.

The complainant, 15 at the time, said he had ran away from home and stolen $700 from his mother’s bankcard with the intention of paying friends to stay with them.

After being discovered he said his father warned him not to run, saying “if you try to run I’ll break your legs”, he told the court.

He explained how his dad dragged him back to the car and smacked him on the back of the head which left a red mark.

After dragging him into the car he looked through his bag and after he found cigarettes he smacked him in the face, he told the jury.

He told the jury how he heard a girl ringing the police while he was in the car.

His father then told him “if I lose my job it’s your fault”, he said.

The teenager said in the video that it was not the first time his dad had assaulted him, saying that he had hit him after he got in trouble at school and after being caught shoplifting.”

Is it likely that three witnesses could be mistaken in what they saw? Not that it matters because the defendant’s word is likely to carry more weight than their collective evidence because:-

a. He is a “high ranking public servant”, who is important enough to have been granted name suppression. He has a lot to lose if found guilty.

b. He is a “gentle fellow” according to his wife.

It’s a long stretch from “gentle fellow” to allegedly punching your kid in the head and threatening to break his legs. If this is a “gentle” person in New Zealand we’d hate to meet a violent one. One has to wonder if his wife has been on the ‘sharp end’ of this type of gentleness on occasions.

Now, this may be unrelated of course, and there’s no way of knowing  if the two are linked, but has name suppression been granted despite the details of a very similar case already being in the public domain for over a year?

On Sat 15 May 2009 the ODT reported that an assault claim had been brought against Wellington’s top cop who was on leave on full pay over an allegation he’d assaulted his teenage son. When he was interviewed he was observed to have an blackened eye.  The article started with:

The head of Wellington’s police force is under investigation for an alleged assault on a family member….”

If the article is still there if you wish to read it, or you can find it here .

Is it any wonder that New Zealand is ranked joint third in the world by UNICEF for the highest number of  child maltreatment deaths? (1.2 per 100,00o children) only the US and Mexico have more. (source) and that One child is abused to death every 23 days?

A recent Independent Police Complaints Authority report stated that “urgent action” is needed by police when investigating child abuse cases. Some cases were found to have been languishing in the “to do” pile for 5-11 years.

“The failures may occur again unless shortcomings in police practices, policies and procedures are remedied.”

Here’s hoping that every abused child in New Zealand gets taken seriously when they bring an assault complaint, and that prompt action is taken to protect them and not their abusers.

Update 22 May:

The summing up statement by the prosecution was reported in theDominion Post:

“Crown prosecutor Paul Dacre asked the jury to make a decision of assault based on two incidents, a punch to the back of the head on the walk to the car and hitting the teenager in the back seat of the parked car in Cuba St. “We say it was deliberate hitting. There was punishment or correction.”

He said there were independent witnesses, members of the general public whose concern was aroused by the man’s behaviour, so much so that several followed him while he was taking the teenager down the street to the car. The independent evidence supported that the teenager was assaulted.

Mr Dacre said the teenager was in an impossible situation, and for whatever reason he was no longer prepared to say what he had originally said about being assaulted. He said: “You can’t punish someone. You can’t take the law into your own hands and punish someone.”

Except perhaps in New Zealand, will justice win out in the end? based on past cases we’re not hopeful for this one.

It’s ironic isn’t it that the man referred to as ‘Wellington’s top cop’ also attended the Pacific Prevention of Domestic Violence Forum conference in Samoa on 4 July 2008. The long term goal of the forum is a “safer Pacific, free from domestic violence”. It is an initiative of the New Zealand Agency for International Development,  New Zealand Police and the Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police.

See also blog posts

Families of murder victims protest suppression laws

Privileged name suppression furore, Sensible Sentencing Trust comments”

“Name suppression of Manawatu man condemned by child advocacy group”

“Name suppression farce continues”