In 1978, as an 11-year-old child, I was institutionalised at Mt Wellington Residential School (later becoming Waimokoia Residental School), a home for emotionally disturbed children. While there I was sexually abused and raped on multiple occasions by a member of staff – an “Assistant House Master” named Gavin Ross Mitchell (now deceased). My abuser was later arrested and convicted of multiple counts of pedophilia and for his crimes -23 counts of sexual indecency against children – sentenced to 3 years (somewhat less than a cannabis supplier might receive in 1978).
Media around his conviction (excerpts thereof):
“ A young Ellerslie man pleaded guilty to 23 charges involving sexual indecencies with young children… He was Gavin Ross Mitchell… They searched Mitchell’s home and found numerous photographs of nude and semi-nude children in various sexual poses… The sergeant said the charges name five boys and two girls.
Mitchell he said had met two of the boys when he was a coach of a soccer team, and a third when he was employed as a house master at a school for emotionally disturbed children.”
Years later, after receiving police reports of Mitchell’s arrest and conviction it became obvious that Mitchell had been quietly let go from the government institution after a student at Mt Wellington Residential reported that Mitchell had kissed him.
Among police reports was a letter from the principal of the school, to police, that reads (excerpts thereof);
“17 November, 1978
As requested I supply information on Gavin Mitchell, ex Assistant Housemaster at this school….
2. Mr Mitchell resigned at my request following an investigation of a report by one pupil of Mr Mitchell allegedly kissing him.
It is relevant to point out that Mr Mitchell’s general performance of his duties was not satisfactory and the incident prompted me to insist on termination of employment. Had Mr Mitchell not resigned, I would have given him notice…
The incident of the kissing of (edited out) was reported to (edited out) on August 15th… “
Police records then show that Mitchell was arrested after parents of a child who played soccer on the team that he coached came forward on the 14th of November 1978, three months later, and filed a criminal complaint, alleging that their child had been sexually abused by Mitchell.
Police then searched Mitchell’s home and found pornographic photos of his victims in “various sexual positions” – among them at least one photo of myself. It was an easy bust. One that simply required someone (anyone) filing a complaint!
The police statement reads:
“On the 14-11-78 Detectives began making enquiries into serious allegations of indecencies with young children in the Ellerslie area. As a result of the enquiries a Search Warrant was executed on the ACCUSED’s home and numerous photographs of nude and semi-nude young children in various poses and positions of sexual intercourse were recovered.”
Mitchell was criminally charged on the 15/11/78, three months, to the day, after a complaint had first been made by a student of Mt Wellington Residential to staff at the school.
Police reports note that my abuse occurred between the dates of 1/6/78 to 28/10/78, or for over four months. On the 15/8/78, the school had received a report that Mitchell had kissed a student. The principal investigated this and Mitchell was subsequently asked to resign from the institution, albeit on the proviso that his resignation had been asked for due to poor performance (or at least this is what was pitched to police).
Either way, my abuse continued for over two months, from the 15/8/78 to 28/10/78, following the report of a crime by a student of Mt Wellington Residential and, vis-à-vis, Mitchell’s resignation. Had a complaint been lodged with the appropriate authorities by the principal of the institution it would have ended much sooner. Furthermore, other children would have been saved.
E.g. In a statement that was given to police in 1978 I say this:
“The next weekend I went over with (edited), my brother. Gavin told me to ask (edited) because he said he must feel a bit left out. Gavin had six bottles of beer there. (Edited) drunk about 2 ½ bottles of beer and got really drunk. Gavin told him to go into the bedroom with him and he just went along with it. I stayed in the lounge and didn’t see what happened. (Edited) came out about a quarter of an hour later and slept on the foam mattress with me. The next morning Gavin gave (Edited) $2. He didn’t say what it was for. (Edited) told me he didn’t know what happened in the bedroom because he was too drunk. That was the last night I went around to Gavin’s place. I have seen him since then and we just talked. He didn’t ask me to go back to his place. He did ring me but I didn’t go.”
This means that my brother had been sexually abused by Mitchell in the three-month window that had been afforded to him on the part of at least one New Zealand Government official – perhaps more… we’ll never know. Records of Mitchell’s – a confirmed/convicted paedophiles – employment with the Ministry have seemingly disappeared (officially I am told that after a given amount of years the Ministry destroys old records, although one would think that given the brevity of these records they would be kept).
In September 2011 the New Zealand Parliament passed a law making “turning a blind eye to child abuse” a criminal offense punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. Today, at least, the school’s principal would be held criminally accountable. Actually, rewind that – as it turns out government workers aren’t covered by this legislation. Seemingly government is exempt from laws they would impose on their citizens. This aside…
By the time Mitchell was arrested I had left Mt Wellington Residential School and returned to mainstream schooling. Presumably this is why the institution never made official contact. There was no offer of counselling for myself or my brother, no offer of guidance for my mother, no apology, not a thing – at least not at an official level.
The only contact made was unofficial and came through a onetime teacher (Lynne Booth) who took me to St Heliers Bay, bought me an ice cream and asked me whether I thought Mitchell, who had babysat her son on several occasions, may have abused her child. I lied and said “no” (I had seen what it had done to my mother and I guess in my mind lying was the best way to protect her). I never heard from her again.
Other than this, police had interviewed me without the presence of an adult. Upon hearing the news that her child had been sexually abused my mother had completely lost the plot. I’ll never forget her screams of “WHY? WHY? WHY?” and her head smashing against the wooden floor of our state rented home. I guess the cops just figured that as the only adult who was present had become mentally unhinged it was appropriate to question a frightened and traumatized child alone. This resulted in myself leaving out several key details. One being relevant to this part of my statement to police:
“ Once when I was having a shower there Gavin asked me to lie on the floor. He said he wanted to put his penis in my bum but I wouldn’t let him do it.”
The truth is he raped me. I guess I was just too ashamed to admit it. I have no idea what that poor kid was thinking. My mind has found a way to black out much of what happened and only now, having received police reports, have some of these memories become unlocked. This in itself is not a nice thing. The Police reports bought with them flashbacks and a deep depression, resulting in an alcohol binge that ended my relationship with the woman I loved (and still do).
Today the NZ Police exercise guidelines in child sexual abuse cases which didn’t exist in 1978. The Police now use specialist interviewers, have support agencies available and referrals are made to Child Youth and Family.
These procedures are to ensure the best evidence is obtained in line with the Prosecution Guidelines and also to ensure the safety and well-being of the juvenile. No such procedures existed in 1978.
Another fact that I had left out of my statement was, when I had reported my abuse to a Housemaster (Tom Downs) at the institution I had been beaten and called a liar. An event that has “more likely than not” been acknowledged as occurring in the evaluation of my case with:
“Moreover when (edited) claims he expressed concern about Gavin Mitchell to a housemaster (Mr Downs) he was physically assaulted and punished. There are no records of this alleged incident although from (edited) perspective it clearly had a significant impact and his retelling of it is convincing….. As detailed in paragraph 5.8 when (edited) did express concern regarding Mr Mitchell to a staff member he was more likely than not assaulted and punished. Not surprisingly (edited) was reluctant to make any further disclosures.”
In my mother’s statement about what occurred she writes:
“ In 1978 two detectives visited my home in Madeleine Ave, Glendowie. The visit was in connection with a young man, Gavin Mitchell, who had befriended my son (edited) when he had attended Mt Wellington Residential School… The visit from detectives was to inform me that Gavin Mitchell had been sexually abusing (edited) and other children. This was a terrible and distressing shock to me. The detectives took (edited) into the lounge and shut the door. They did not ask me to go in while they interviewed him…. (Edited) life since this time has been a roller coaster of uncertainty. At that time there was never any offer of counselling for him to help him deal with any effects from the abuse.”
I wish I could go back in time and turn this all around; to watch out for that kid and his brother and protect them as the man I am now. No one else did! Part of me died. A part of me is missing. A part of me I cannot seem to find. What angers me most now is how not a single adult picked up something (anything) was wrong and when they did they failed to report an alleged crime to police. How could it be that as a young child I had been placed in a home for emotionally disturbed children, raped and beaten in their care and then left to fend for myself (leaving the institution more emotionally disturbed than I had entered)? How is it right that Mitchell received three years when myself and others received life? I.e.
Bangkok Arrest, 2011 – excerpts from embassy report
“Friend contacted CEC and advised Mr (edited) had been arrested in a fight. Advised Mr (edited) was a boxer and hurt a Norwegian national badly. Advised that the Norwegian national had been taken to hospital and was in pretty bad condition…
Friend believes that (edited) has a mood disorder and is taking medication (possibly Xanax) for his condition.
Nature of charges and prescribed prison terms for such crimes and offences in accordance with local penal codes. (Edited) spoke to Pol Cap Jatus and was confirmed that (edited) was arrested at a pub in Khaosan Rd… around 2am. According to police (edited) was intoxicated and involved in a fight with a Norwegian and UK national. The Norwegian was sent to hospital but not severely injured and UK national was only slightly injured…
(Edited) contacted Chanasongkram Police Station on 31/8/2011 to seek an update on (edited) legal status. According to Pol.Capt. Jarus, (edited) was released yesterday evening without charge after he provided compensation to the Norwegian national involved in the altercation. The police consider the case closed. ”
Footnote: The compensation was a bribe for corrupt Thai cops – $2000 USD. It was this or what they claimed would be one plus years in the Bangkok Hilton and, later, expulsion from the country. Based on this, paying $2000.00 (they had initially asked for $5000.00 USD) was an easy decision.
Dr’s Note to Mental Health Unit, 7 Dec 2003
“Thank you for seeing (edited), age 37 years, for an opinion and management. (Edited) presents with a long history of feeling detached, poor concentration with variable mood. Over the past 3-6 months he has been concerned that he may be schizophrenic… He was recently retrenched from his job in hydroponics… His girlfriend has observed that he has become increasingly paranoid, irritable and tends to go into a huge rage episodically. During these episodes she is concerned for her own safety and the safety of others… He says he had a “terrible” childhood… Paranoid ideas, mood disturbance, episodic rage… Early psychotic illness?? Complex partial seizures…”
Author’s note: These complex partial seizures are what I call spatial glitches where I lose days at a time in some cases and have no idea where I have been or what I have done. On several occasions I come to with broken up hands (bloody knuckles etc), and facial bruising but cannot remember a thing – so while it is apparent that I have been in at least one fight I have no idea what has transpired.
Psyche Notes to Mental Health Unit, 2007…
“I saw this man four times between Sept 2003 and Feb 2004. He had episodes of psychosis and loss of control and he is a heavy intermittent user of cannabis… Doesn’t like the system… Did not come back.”
Mental Health Unit Notes, 2007
“(Edited) has a longstanding history. Reports his mood as of anger especially with the system. He is not psychotic though he misinterprets things to say others intend to hurt him resulting in anger and impulsive decisions… He saw Dr (edited) in 2003 who told him he is an “out Lier”*… Shows no remorse… Antisocial/narcissistic… Might go psychotic.”
1: Something that is situated away from or classed from a main or related body
2: a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample
(From Outliers, Malcolm Caldwell)
Email from Ex Girlfriend
“I have ALWAYS wanted the answer to this question:
Years ago we were in Northbridge, late at night and we came across a fight between 3 or 4 guys with their hanger-ons on the periphery. One of the guys was fucked and bleeding badly. I asked you to do something to stop the fight and your immediate response was – “It’s got nothing to do with us” (actually you probably said -” it’s got nothing to do with me”). Anyway, I challenged you and said something like ” Well how good are you really?” and before I knew it you were “in there”.
From my perspective this is what happened: You separated the main antagonist from the fight and somehow managed to coral him against a wall – so it was just you and him. No violence involved, no physical contact involved. You simply herded him like a willing sheep. When he was away from the affray I could tell you were talking in his ear. I mean you were literally talking in his ear. You did so – the fight stopped and we continued on our way as if nothing had happened.
What I want to know is 2 things:
1. How were you able to step into such violence so casually?
2. What did you say into that guys ear that had him stop in his tracks?”
From Independent Investigation/Case Review 2012
Many of (edited) psychological and behavioral issues over the years strongly indicate that he had been traumatised by the experience. His avoidance behaviour and efforts to numb his trauma through self-medication, his anxiety and at times highly emotional arousal along with overt irritability and at time dangerous outbursts of anger are strong and consistent indicators of being traumatised and as such are indicators of post traumatic stress disorder.
I’m going to leave this one here. As one friend put it when reading over the police records, “Oh my god, this is horrifying.“ And it is…. Soul destroying. What more can be said?
As for justice…
Originally I had signed up with Cooper Legal, a Wellington based Law firm representing over 600 plaintiffs in the “historic abuse claims” where over 1000 New Zealand ex state wards are claiming damages against the state. Among the crimes the state is charged with are kidnap, unlawful imprisonment, torture, assault, rape, and at least one allegation of murder. In my case my lawyers had charged “negligence, assault and battery, breach of fiduciary duty, non-delegable duty of care, false imprisonment, and breach of domestic and international human rights instruments, including Articles 5, 9 and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and breach of duty to provide legal advice/loss of chance.”
The estimate for the costs of my legal representation were stated as thus:
“ESTIMATE OF COSTS - QUESTION 45
Unknown – may not proceed to trial. Range between $3,000 and $50,000 at top end. This is an estimate only until further information is available. If the matter can be settled promptly then the costs will be at the lower end.
We advise that (edit) resides in France. Therefore, disbursements are likely be higher than is usual for a file of this nature, taking postage and international toll costs into consideration. We ask the Agency to consider this and grant office disbursements accordingly.”
However, in order for Cooper Legal to represent me it was necessary to get legal aid. Legal aid is government funding to pay for legal help for people who can’t afford a lawyer. It is stated to be “available for people facing criminal charges, and those with a civil legal problem or family dispute (including family matters) that may go to court…” – or as the case may be in this respect, have the State pay for my case against the State.
Legal Aid was denied to me on the basis that I had declared $20,000 NZD in savings. However, I had also declared that I had no income and received no benefits, so these savings were required for daily living expenses in Paris, France – one of the most expensive cities in the world – where I was living at that time with my onetime French girlfriend. Further, I declared that I was in the process of starting a business and expenditure for this was required (a very important fact that my legal representation failed to note in my application and an omission that would later give LSA a very flimsy and obviously flawed basis for denial).
According to Legal Services Agency (LSA) in New Zealand, when they made a final denial of legal aid, 6 months after my initial application:
2 December 2011
Mr (edited) initially advised that his savings of $20,000.00 would be used for living expenses whilst residing in France. It appears now from the information provided that Mr (edited) elected to use these savings for matters other than his day to day living expenses.
We remain of the view that Mr (edited) had $20,000.00 available to him to meet the costs of his own proceedings.
However, as I put it to them.
“How could this be? Even had Cooper Legal supplied you with the correct information (which they didn’t) that the savings of $20,000 were to be used for day-to-day living expenses in Paris this statement is incorrect and fails to understand that the NZ dollar is 58c euro on today’s exchange rate – thus $20,000 NZD is 11, 640 euro.
Let me explain how expensive Paris is. My rent there was 450 euro ($773 NZD) a month for a tiny part of a tiny apartment (very cheap by Paris standards with one bedroom apartments being in excess of 1,000 – 1,200 euro) a month, a cup of Expresso costs 3 euro, a packet of 20 cigarettes 5.60 euro (I smoke two packets a day), a metro pass 1 zone = 2 euro, to go out for a meal 30 euro minimum and to eat at home approximately 8-10 euro, on the cheap, per meal. Add to this other day-to-day living expenses and one perhaps begins to understand that $20,000 NZD is a paltry sum to survive on in Paris which is listed as one of the most expensive cities the world. I.e.
“Oslo, Paris, Copenhagen and London are now the four most expensive cities in the world says the Economist Intelligence Unit in its latest report on worldwide cost of living.” http://www.citymayors.com/economics/expensive_cities_eiu.html
Further, as a rough estimate, to live in Paris costs a minimum of 2,000 euro ($3,400NZD) a month. This would mean that one could live in Paris on $20,000 NZD for 5.88 months. Given this and given that the initial application for legal aid by Cooper Legal was submitted on the 10/6/2011 this would mean that on the 2/12/2011 when your department denied me legal aid I would have, based on the information Cooper Legal supplied, been bankrupt with no savings given 6 months had passed since the initial application where $20,000 NZD savings were declared, so I must question this statement;
“We remain of the view that Mr (edited) had $20,000.00 available to him to meet the costs of his own proceedings.”
Could you please explain to me in writing how you came to this conclusion?”
This response was never formally sent to LSA after I had expressed to Cooper Legal that unless legal aid were granted it seemed pointless to pursue the case based on some extremely low settlements where in one publicised case the payout was less than the legal bill. I.e. A story that featured in NZ press (NZ Herald, Simon Collins, April 20, 2011) with:
“Netta Christian, who lives in a retirement complex in Hamilton, won $10,000 compensation in an out of court settlement of her case against the Ministry of Social Development last year.
But she didn’t receive a cent of the money because it all went on fees for her lawyer, Sonja Cooper.
Ms Cooper, a Wellington lawyer who represents 400 to 500 former state wards, said the Legal Services Agency had refused to pay legal aid for most new claimants because it thought their cases would fail in court.”
After reading of Netta Christian’s case I had made contact with her with…
“Netta I was sorry to read your story. I’m part of the legal action against the NZ Gov. I was a state ward in the late 70′s and was sexually abused over a period of time by a state employee… Look I’m glad you feel you have had some justice. I just wanted to say hello to let you know that no matter where you are you are not alone. Thanks for speaking out.”
In subsequent email exchanges she made note of this:
“Thank you for your email.
One of the things I found out that it is my lawyer Sonja Cooper did not help me, you may not be aware she has been named as one of the top receivers of legal aid for child abuse victims, and there are cases pending where serious complaints have been made against her. In my case she kept all my money, and it was only after going to Garth Young at Care Claims and Resolutions team, that they were able to pay me back the money Sonja Cooper had kept. One of the ladies in my group was able to put me right about what Sonja had been doing. Sonja takes cases she knows she has no hope of ever winning so that she can claim as much money as she can from the legal aid gravy train. “
How much of this was correct (or not distorted) is unknown, but it did raise very real concerns. Concerns that I had raised with Cooper Legal, via email, at the time stating that unless Legal Aid were granted it seemed pointless to pursue a case.
“Good morning (edited)
Thank you for your emails, which we received this morning.
It is clear from your emails that you have significant issues regarding entering into a private contract with us. Your comments lead us to believe that you do not trust us to act in your best interests. Given this, we do not consider that we can act for you in this matter. It is not beneficial for either party to act in a matter where the client does not trust their lawyers. Given this, we suggest that your best options would be either to instruct another lawyer to act on your behalf, or to act for yourself in this matter, as you have advised you are able to do. We consider that our professional relationship with you is now at an end.
Your comments regarding Netta Christian’s situation are mistaken, however, due to lawyer-client privilege we are unable to comment on the matter any further.
The letter sent to you enclosed legal aid forms which we would require if we needed to contest a decision made by Legal Aid. It did not contain any type of private contract. However, we have not yet had a response from Legal Aid about your funding. This is probably because Legal Aid is still considering all the information and documents we have provided. We consider it highly likely that Legal Aid will decline your application, because of your unusual financial position.
We wish you well in your future endeavours with this matter.”
WTF??? My response… (sent on the 30/11/2011):
“(Edited) it is not a case of not trusting you to act as my lawyers – in fact, I made contact with Netta after reading an article about her case. After several very negative emails where she seemed to be telling people to deal direct with the Government I made it clear to her that she should be advising anyone who contacts her that the right advice is to first go through legal aid and only if it was rejected to then consider other options. But also having spoken to her I wanted to make it clear that if legal aid is denied I see it absolutely pointless in pursuing the case through legal channels with Cooper Legal given the payouts to date would only cover legal fees (or at least the cases I have read of in news where payouts have been nothing short of disgraceful).
So let me clarify – you are saying that if a client questions your firm about the status of things and what it is they are actually signing you will then not act for them?
… I am happy to have Cooper Legal act on my behalf until legal aid is denied and will sign anything that pertaining to a legal aid application. Trust doesn’t come into it. That is my official stance on the matter and one that I have enforced to Netta as the right advice to be given to anyone who contacts her. So please reconsider your stance on this and as I said forms for legal aid application will be signed.”
Shortly after this contact my legal aid was denied on the 2/12/2011 and Cooper Legal made it clear that they would no longer pursue further legal aid appeals with.
“Good afternoon (edited)
We have now received Legal Aid’s decision regarding your application for aid.
Unfortunately, Legal Aid has declined your application for aid for a second time, on the basis that you had $20,000 available to you which you could have used for financing legal proceedings, but have used these funds for other reasons. Please note that this is Legal Aid’s opinion – not ours.
We need to explain to you that this was not a first decision – as we have told you before, Legal Aid first declined your application in August 2011. We applied for reassessment of this decision. This latest decision is that reassessment. Unfortunately, there is little more that we can do to argue this. Legal Aid has been provided with all the information you have given us, and it has formed the opinion that you could have funded your own legal proceedings – if you had chosen to. We have been unable to persuade it otherwise.
The form you are returning to us is for reassessment / reconsideration. As explained above, we have already undertaken this step. We are not able to do this again. Therefore, you do not need to return this form.
You have been very clear that you do not wish to enter into a private contract with us, and as such, in the absence of Legal Aid we are not able to act for you in this matter.
If you wish to take this up directly with Legal Aid, you can contact grants officer, Tania Malcolm, at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
It was Christmas, 2011. A Christmas that bore bad tidings! I had no legal aid, no lawyers for which to appeal the denial of legal aid, and, therefore, no way of seeking justice through the New Zealand “justice” system.
I was not unique. Many other plaintiffs had faced similar problems. For instance, Cooper Legal notes this on their website (http://www.sonjacooperlaw.co.nz/social-welfare-claims/).
“Although we are making progress with your claims, legal aid problems continue. The Legal Services Agency is still trying to withdraw legal aid from as many of you as possible. The Legal Services Agency will use almost any reason to withdraw your legal aid. That means if you do not keep in contact with us, or you do not cooperate with us in terms of the work we need to do on your behalf, then the Legal Services Agency will use that as a ground for withdrawing your legal aid.
In our recent newsletters, we have reported to you on our challenges to the Agency’s refusal or withdrawal of your legal aid to the Legal Aid Review Panel (“LARP”). We have continued to file reviews with the LARP. As we reported in our last newsletter, in the case of clients for whom we have not yet obtained psychiatric reports, most of the decisions have been favourable. In other words, LARP has reinstated legal aid to enable us to obtain an expert report which addresses Limitation Act issues. As we also reported in our last newsletter, we have a very big backlog of reports to obtain and only a very small number of experts who can do them. Having said that, we doubt that we will need expert reports, in most cases, to resolve your claim – as MSD is now openly stating that it will not always rely on the limitation defence as a barrier to resolving a case.
We continue to have difficulties obtaining funding to do work we need to do on your behalf. That includes ongoing difficulties in having the LSA pay for work we have already undertaken for you. “
Without legal representation, as Netta Christian had suggested, I then contacted Garth Young at Care Claims and Resolutions team. However, after several email communications it became clear that Cooper Legal were suing the wrong Government Department and that contrary to their legal aid claim where they were suing the DSW (Department of Social Welfare), Mt Wellington Residential School fell under the brief of the Ministry of Education as a special needs school. I.e. What Cooper Legal stated in their claim against the state was this:
“In approximately 1976, (edited) was taken into DSW care and placed at Mt Wellington Residential, where he remained for approximately 1 year.”
However, as Garth Young rightfully pointed out…
“Mt Wellington Residential School was a special school owned and administered by the Department (now the Ministry) of Education, rather than by the Department of Social Welfare (now MSD). For that reason any claims or complaints about any teachers or staff at the school need to be addressed by the Ministry of Education and I know that they have dealt with one or two other cases from Mt Wellington.”
Great! So my solicitors had firstly botched my application for legal aid and secondly, were even suing the wrong Government Department.
In desperation to contest the denial of legal aid through LSA I had approached several other New Zealand solicitors who worked on a Legal Aid basis. In all cases they required a down payment in excess of $1,500.00 NZD, plus more when needed for ongoing legal costs – money I simply didn’t have. Based on this, I was forced to defend myself. So much for justice!
The Independent Review Process
“At April 2010, 166 claims had been made to MSD. Of these, 56 had been resolved. Of 434 claims filed in court, 378 were still live cases, 29 had been settled and 27 discontinued or struck out. Compensation payments to individuals ranged from $1,150 to $75,000.” http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/childrens-homes-and-fostering/5
Without Legal Aid and, therefore, no recourse through the courts, I was then forced to contact the Ministry of Education and go through what they claimed to be an “independent investigation”. What’s interesting about this is that, ultimately, while the case evaluation is handled by an ex “Ministry” psychologist, these findings are then evaluated by the Ministry of Education, which to even the dumbest bastard plainly makes the process an internal and non-independent investigation/process (i.e. the very party who is being sued for damages acts on behalf of the plaintiff and themselves). Further to this, as a part NZ Maori I had requested that a Maori investigator be appointed to the case. Their answer to this was that along with the ‘Pakeha’ (European New Zealander) investigator, Murray Witheford, an ex Ministry of Education psychologist, they could appoint one of their own Maori staff, Beau Rewiti, to act as part of the “independent investigation”. I agreed to this as I saw little point in arguing for an independent Maori investigator as the process was clearly, as far as I was concerned, non-independent.
- Not governed by a foreign power; self-governing.
- Free from the influence, guidance, or control of another or others; self-reliant: an independent mind.
- Not determined or influenced by someone or something else; not contingent: a decision independent of the outcome of the study.
- often Independent Affiliated with or loyal to no one political party or organization.
- Not dependent on or affiliated with a larger or controlling entity…
By this time the Ministry had received the police records of my abuse and psyche records etc. As Jyotika Sharma, the Senior Solicitor of the Ministry had herself said via email when I sent her police records of my abuse, “this information is very compelling”. I bet! As I live outside of New Zealand a face-to-face meeting was out of the question and, therefore, they requested a videoconference to enable me to outline my “complaint” and for them to explain the process that would take place. I informed them that I was in Bali at the time and this would take some doing and undoubtedly cost me money, but assuming they were willing to pick up the bill this could likely be organised. Other than this, I added that we might be able to handle the meeting through Skype, adding that I had a USB modem in my room that at best was slow and unreliable and this might cause problems with a video face-to-face meeting via Skype. Nevertheless, they opted for the Skype option.
The Face-to-Face Fiasco – Blips in Cyberspace
As expected the Skype connection was, at best, unreliable and kept dropping out, forcing recall after recall. The sum totality of the meeting seemed to be about what I expected from the Ministry of Education. My response to this was financial remuneration for the damage I had sustained while in their “care”. Quite hilariously (or not) the so-called Independent investigator, Murray Witheford, responded with, “some people just want and apology.” At that point I told them they could stick their apology (up their arse being optional) because it would be empty rhetoric and that they (The Ministry of Education) had known what had happened to me over 30 years ago and buried it. Further, I added that the only form of apology that would count would be a Royal Commission into what went on in NZ state run institutions with findings handed down to protect children in future, adding that any apology (“not that it would mean shit to me”) should be made by the Government publicly to all of those who had been abused and raped while in their care. I reinforced this in an email to the Ministry’s Senior Solicitor, Jyotika Sharma, after the Skype call with:
“As expected the face-to-face was more a phone call – and a bad connection at that. I’ll put some formal stuff in writing as to what I expect as an outcome. I have already made it clear that an apology is empty rhetoric from a Government that has the 2nd highest rate of child abuse in the OECD (number 1 until recently but just pipped at the post by the US in the last few years) and that any apology should come in the way of a Royal Commission into crimes committed against children in state care and the way in which the historic abuse cases have been handled. Findings and recommendations from this Royal Commission should then be implemented to protect future generations in a country with a shocking record of child abuse. At that point if the Government is truly sorry they should make a public and formal apology to all those children who were abused while in the care of the state. Other than this, any apology is simply lip service (empty rhetoric) and is 30 plus years way too late in my case (given the Ministry was more than aware I was sexually abused as a direct result of their “care” 30 plus years ago).”
Other than this, Murray Witheford had informed me during the Skype meeting that any settlement wouldn’t affect my ability to claim what is known in New Zealand as an ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) claim for damages. This information was largely incorrect/misleading on two levels. Firstly, one needs to (in my case having left NZ in 1989) return to New Zealand to make a claim (or at least go through some parts of the process in New Zealand) at their own cost (flights, accommodation etc) and secondly the maximum entitlement I could receive would be $84.97 NZD a week under what is known as the Independence allowance (presumably meaning, independent to become homeless and starving). Additionally, the “Independence Allowance” is evaluated on the level of injury that is sustained in an “accident”, so if I were blind, limbless and totally insane (on the latter, some would say I am) at least I could perhaps rest assured that I would get the massive payout of $84.97 NZD a week, but in reality, after studying their disability criteria, I could perhaps expect half this amount… at best.
Just by coincidence the ACC had made changes to its historic abuse claims policy in 2010. What replaced it is now known as “Sensitive Claims”. However, upon even a vague investigation the “Sensitive Claims” process it is anything but “Sensitive”. For instance, in 2007 nearly 6000 claims were lodged. Some 3991 were accepted and 1928 were declined. By 2012 only 49 claims were accepted. Ten per cent of claims were accepted in 2010; 4 per cent in 2011; and 4 per cent in 2012.” (Source, NZ Herald)
Sum totality, the $30,000 NZD (lead handshake) and sorry, with legal disclaimer, would be the end of the story. However, what it came down to did surprise me in the end. As it turned out the Independent Investigator, contrary to what I believed would happen, submitted an evaluation of my case that was, in most parts, fair to the facts and the evidence put before them. This said, it was he that recommended the payout sum of $30,000 NZD and got a couple of facts wrong, just one of them being neglecting to mention that my brother had been sexually abused as a direct result of the Ministry’s cover up of the case over 30 years earlier. Other than this, he focused on the criminal actions of Mitchell while neglecting to focus on the gross breach of duty of care on the part of the Principal of the institution and likely other Ministry officials.
Other than this, I had quizzed them during the interview of whether they had had any similar complaints as mine about Mt Wellington Residential School and what it became later known as Waimokoia Residential School after Mt Wellington Residential was relocated in 1980. Mr Witheford’s response was almost flippant…. (to the effect of), yes there had been a few but these, for the most part, were rather trivial where in most cases complainants had perhaps been kept in the “Time Out Room” too long etc (interesting given the massive police investigation and subsequent arrests and imprisonment of ex staff for brutality and sexual abuse against onetime students). The other question that now needs raising is, if what Murray Witheford claimed was true, how then was my payout on par to that of similar cases. I.e. They were either talking absolute shit (most likely) in their so called open and transparent investigation or those who had received similar payouts to my own were as a result of serious criminal events that had occurred at other New Zealand Ministry of Education Institutions. Bottom line, the face-to-face was absolute bullshit – noughts and ones in cyber space on a data insecure Skype connection.