Gruesome autopsy photographs of a three-year-old boy are being circulated in a controversial email petition demanding tougher jail terms for child abusers.
The series of images show a battered Ngatikaura Ngati, who died in January 2006 after sustained beatings from his mother, Maine Ngati, 32, and her partner, Teusila Fa'asisila, 27.
An Auckland High Court jury was told the youngster was beaten with weapons including a baseball bat and an oar. Ngati would punch her son in the face, hit him with a stick and whack him on the head when she thought he was naughty.
The violence was so extreme that Ngatikaura's blood was found on the ceilings of rooms of his home.
The couple were acquitted of murder but found guilty of manslaughter and jailed for 8½ years in June.
A judge had granted permission for media to publish the autopsy photographs - but Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro said it was "abhorrent" that the e-mail petition featured them. "Circulating them allows for further abuse in death of a child who was abused in life. It is abhorrent to have them circulated in this way."
Dr Kiro says New Zealand has reached a "tipping point" over child abuse after the fatal injuries inflicted on three-year-old Rotorua girl Nia Glassie.
The Auckland jury's unwillingness to convict Ngatikaura's carers of murder has sparked outrage in cyberspace.
The e-mail petition calling for harsher penalties has been circulating among government departments, including police, the Social Development Ministry and the Internal Affairs Department, as well as Capital and Coast District Health Board, Porirua City Council and Masterton District Council.
Assistant Commissioner Gavin Jones said police staff who had forwarded the e-mail had technically breached internal computer policies.
"Well intentioned" staff who had done so would not face disciplinary action but would be reminded to "take care around such matters".
Attached to the petition are five photographs of the dead boy. The pictures, which were presented as evidence in the High Court, are too graphic for The Dominion Post to publish.
Justice Graham Lang ordered the photos to be released to the media at the end of the trial to publicise the harm caused by child abuse.
Dr Kiro said that, despite everyone's best intentions, there would be no way of controlling who saw the pictures or how they were used once they were placed on the Internet.
However, Inspector Richard Middleton, who led the police investigation into Ngatikaura's death, said circulating the photos could have a positive effect. "The case was very disturbing in view of the amount of violence used against a defenceless three-year-old. Anything that raises awareness and prevents it happening again is great."
The petition organiser did not respond to interview requests, but in a message attached to the petition said it was time to act.
"Not only is this case preposterous, it sets a precedent for cases to come. I believe each and every one of us should have a say, and if we stand together on this we will make a difference," she said.
The petition seeks 1000 online signatures with the aim of presenting it to Parliament.
Dr Kiro said the petition was vague and the organisers had not explained what "harsher sentences" meant. She said her office was working on a project looking at the equivalence of sentences handed out for child abuse and similar crimes, such as home invasion and elder abuse.
- The Dominion Post
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