'No-one believed me. All I had was my word'
TONY WALL AND FLORENCE KERR
A former student of Waikato school teacher Rueben Tapara says no one believed him when he complained about Tapara nine years ago.
Tapara, 32, now faces charges of sexually abusing boys and supplying them with cannabis between 2010 and August this year when assistant principal at another kura kaupapa.
A Sunday Star-Times investigation has found Tapara was suspended from Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Oparure near Te Kuiti in 2004 when the former student's complaint was made.
The school sought advice from the New Zealand School Trustees Association and an investigator was brought in. Police were not notified. Tapara was reinstated after the investigation found no evidence to support the complaint, and he spent another four years at the school.
The Star-Times revealed last month the principal who suspended Tapara, Hirere Moana, later wrote him a glowing reference, which he used to get a job at a kura in Putaruru where the alleged abuse and drug use occurred.
The principal of that school, Keith Silveira, said he felt "devastated" and "betrayed" he was not told of the earlier investigation.
The former Oparure student, who was under 13 at the time, said he was interviewed about three times by the investigator and the line of questioning was disturbing.
"They believed Rueben over me, no-one believed me, not the school, not the principal. I had no proof, all I had was my word."
The former student said he felt under pressure from the school community, which he felt had sided with Tapara, and comments such as "you'd better have your facts right" were made by parents who were on the board of trustees.
"I was getting grief - I was a liar, that was the word. It felt pretty bad, I felt gutted that no-one would believe me."
The former student said his complaint should have been taken higher, but the investigator "didn't even let the police know".
"This is what happens when you don't listen to kids who are trying to tell important messages about their teachers."
One of the former student's whanau members said they felt guilty that they hadn't insisted the complaint be taken to police.
"Until I die I will regret not going to the police," one family member said.
The relative said they asked Moana several times if she would go to police, but she insisted on keeping it in-house.
Moana has declined to comment on the issue.
The board of trustees chairman at the time, Shane Te Ruki, now a kaumatua in residence at Te Papa, insisted the allegation was properly investigated.
"We were guided all the way through the investigation by the NZSTA. The findings were zilch. There was absolutely nothing to be found," he said.
Tapara was respected in the Maniapoto area and had speaking rights on marae in the area, but Te Ruki rejected any suggestion he was protected because of his connections. He said Tapara's arrest was a "most unfortunate situation, terrible. You think to yourself, was there more we could have done? Actually we did everything we possibly could have".
NZSTA industrial relations adviser Peter Murphy confirmed that he had advised the Oparure kura over the years, but could not remember the 2004 case.
He did not know who had carried out the investigation, and was trying to find out.
Tapara will appear again in the Hamilton District Court on Tuesday.
MINISTRY PAID FOR PROBE
The Ministry of Education has been forced to admit that it paid for an investigation into teacher Rueben Tapara in 2004, but knew nothing about the nature of it.
The ministry previously told the Star-Times it could not find any record of being notified of the complaint by Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Oparure.
But board of trustees chairman Hone Te Rire said last week: "I'm not going to say they're telling porkies, but they certainly knew what was going on in 2004, because they paid for it."
Deputy secretary for Education Andrew Hampton said the ministry had further searched its records and had found a letter in its finance department from a manager to then board chairman Shane Te Ruki.
It advised that the ministry would provide part reimbursement of $2500 for costs incurred in "an investigation".
The letter did not provide any detail about the investigation or the nature of it and the manager had since moved on.
"There should have been better documentation regarding this matter and that has been addressed in recent years," Hampton said.
"It's not acceptable that we weren't able to produce the documents from 2004."
- Sunday Star Times