Police mishandle assault on 11-year-old

TONY WALL
Last updated 05:00 06/07/2014
Mark Loper
SORRY: Mark Loper of Bay of Plenty police apologised to the boy’s mother.

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Police have apologised for their handling of a child assault case where a prominent professional escaped conviction and had his name permanently suppressed.

In a letter of apology to the mother of the 11-year-old victim, a senior officer admitted police had watered down the summary of facts, failed to keep her and her son informed of the fact they were reducing the charge against the offender, the boy's father, and failed to return the woman's phone calls.

"We pride ourselves on being victim focused and in your case we fell short of what we expect of our staff and of our processes," wrote Detective Inspector Mark Loper of Bay of Plenty police.

The offender, a Tauranga professional in his 50s involved in charity work, has subsequently pleaded guilty to charges of breaching protection and parenting orders by making unauthorised contact with his son. He will be sentenced in the Auckland District Court later this month.

The boy told police that after a dispute over a phone in November, 2012, his father slammed his head twice on to the concrete floor of their garage, dragged him up some stairs, banged him against the walls, dragged him across the lounge floor, sat him down and slammed his head on to the kitchen table.

He ran from the address, went to his grandmother's house and was taken to Tauranga Hospital with bruising to his neck and arms and swelling and bruising to his head.

He also complained of headaches and sore eyes and according to his mother, still suffers headaches, nausea and fatigue.

Police admit their summary of facts presented in court, which talked about the victim "falling over a suitcase" as his father "marched him to the dining room . . . to join the rest of the family for the evening meal . . . did not reflect the full seriousness of the assault".

The summary was written by one of the Bay of Plenty's most senior officers, Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Turner. Loper and Turner last month visited the boy's mother at her home in Auckland and apologised during a meeting that lasted more than two hours.

The boy's mother, who has full custody of him, said the apology came only after she complained to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

"As far as I'm concerned they don't understand the nature of abuse," she said. "They say family violence is not OK and yet they do this. It's easier to let a woman and child take the [fallout] than confront a man who's connected, with power. It's the old-boy network.''

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Ruth Money of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, who supported the woman during the meeting with police, said: "In today's culture of family violence awareness and so-called proactivity, the detective senior sergeant's conduct here is appalling."

The offender was originally charged with assault on a child, which carries a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment, but police did a plea bargain and reduced the charge to common assault.

The father pleaded guilty last year and was discharged without conviction. Judge Josephine Bouchier permanently suppressed his name, after his Queen's Counsel argued that convicting and naming him would damage his reputation and affect his charity work.

Police further enraged the boy's mother last week when Loper said in a statement to the Sunday Star-Times that the charge was reduced because police believed there was no prospect of a conviction on the original charge due to a lack of "evidential sufficiency".

"I'm shocked and disbelieving," said the mother. "In the time they sat with me they never once said lack of evidence was why they downgraded the charge.

"They said it was to protect my son from going to trial. He wanted to go to trial and to tell the judge what happened to him. His words were ‘apparently I'm just a child and what I say doesn't matter'."

It is the latest Tauranga prosecution to cause concern, after an accused rapist who had a violence charge dropped went on to offend again, and a man who assaulted a woman, causing injuries that led to her death, was charged with only a minor offence.

Loper said in his apology letter that Turner would make time to meet the victim, now 13, and explain the decision to change the charge was "based on securing an acknowledgement of guilt only and was not reflective of the content of [the victim's] interview."

Loper told the Star-Times the assault was thoroughly investigated and the inquiry team "remained focused on securing a conviction and acknowledgement of guilt from the offender and achieved that outcome for the victim".

He said "police take all assaults on children extremely seriously and this was no exception".

Police had expended significant resources to the case but he accepted they could have kept the mother better informed.

- Sunday Star Times

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