'Loving' Mellory robbed of chance at better life

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 05:00 12/03/2014
Ngatai
Ngatai "Mellory" Manning.

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Robin Manning never lost hope that whoever killed his sister would be brought to justice. 

Robin Manning is still haunted by images of his sister Ngatai's badly broken body.

Recalling those moments, he still sometimes feels angry.

Knowing his "pretty tough" sister would not have gone down easily. That she would have fought back. At the brutality of the fatal attack.

Mostly, that she wanted to turn her life around, but was robbed of the chance.

It was December 2008 - six months after their older sister Jasmine died in tragic circumstances, by taking her own life.

Ngatai "Mellory" Manning, a petite 27-year-old about 167cm tall and weighing 45kg, never stood a chance against Mauha Huatahi Fawcett and his patched mobster cronies.

A High Court jury yesterday accepted the Crown view - they wanted her dead, or at the very least, to administer a potentially fatal beating.

Some of her injuries were so horrific, they were suppressed by the court.

Despite never wanting the limelight, Robin Manning, 30, became something of a family frontman during the police investigation, which is ongoing.

To him, she is still Ngatai, and not just "a drug user and a prostitute".

"She also had a family, we got brought up together - and it wasn't always like that," he said.

Ngatai Lynette Manning was born in Nelson in 1981.

Their sister, Jasmine, was two years older.

Robin Manning was born in 1983, after the family moved to Christchurch.

The three children were raised in Southbridge, attending Southbridge Primary School and Ellesmere College.

Home life was tough.

"We went through a lot of s...t together, but it was always the three of us. We always had each other."

"As a kid, [Ngatai] was a good kid, she was smart at school. She didn't one day think, I'm going to be a prostitute. Events happened in her life."

"Now she's dead, she's not suffering anymore. It's just really sad."

Ngatai started "going off the rails" when she was about 13 or 14.

She started with running away with older men, which led her to Christchurch and the drug scene.

The court heard she started working on the street at age 14, to support her drug habit.

Robin Manning said his sister lived in various parts of Christchurch - Addington, Phillipstown and Cashmere - usually with other drug users.

"It wasn't until I was a bit older I realised what was going on."

Robin Manning credits the fact he stayed on track to his great-grandparents in Granity, who "basically brought me up".

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Ngatai also spent six months with them when she was about 9.

"I kept getting sent over there. For the crucial years, 5 to 10, they were there for me. My sisters didn't get that," Robin Manning said.

Jasmine Manning died only six months before Ngatai, who had changed her name to Mellory.

Robin Manning had not seen Jasmine for about 10 years. She had been living in witness protection in Auckland and her body was sent to Christchurch for a funeral.

That marked a "turning point" for Ngatai, he said.

Within about three months, she was on the methadone programme.

She reconnected with her mother, was painting, and "wanted to do something art-related", he said.

Her partner Kent Gorrie said in evidence they wanted to have a baby and "straighten our lives out".

Ngatai Manning's closest childhood friend, too, will remember Ngatai as the "sweet loving person" with beautiful blue eyes.

Lea, who wanted only her first name used, said she almost fell to the floor when she saw Ngatai's body.

Lea said it took a long time to look past the injuries to say good-bye.

"She wasn't a big girl.

"For another human being to do that to someone else, I can't understand it. It's sickening. It haunts me."

Lea and Manning met aged 6 or 7, and they grew up together in Southbridge.

They shared a childhood of barbies, swimming, building tree-huts and sleep-overs.

"Where we lived there wasn't a lot to do so we relied on each other for entertainment."

Ngatai was "the goodie-good". She was into ballet, was a fast runner and a good singer.

They attended Ellesmere College together for about a year and a half before Lea went to boarding school.

Even when their lives went in different directions, they stayed in touch.

No matter what was happening in Ngatai's life, she was still the same "girly girl", Lea said.

"We would go back to being like we were when we were younger. We still had that connection. It was nice," Lea said.

The last time Lea saw her, not long before her death, they went out for coffee and a slice.

"Here I am just tucking into this slice, and here's Ngatai neatly cutting up her slice and eating little pieces."

"She was telling me about how she wanted to make changes in her life. She wanted better things. I encouraged her to work towards that."

Ngatai wanted to "face her demons".

"If she was here today, I think she would have been off the drugs, not doing prostitution. I think she would have turned things around," Lea said.

"She wanted a different life. A better life. She wanted to have kids one day and do all the normal things."

"It would have been a slow process, but she would have got there. She deserved that opportunity. It's very unfair she didn't get that chance."

"She's sadly missed."

By pure chance, Robin Manning saw Ngatai walking on Riccarton Rd on the morning of her killing.

He thought about stopping, but was running late to a work appointment.

"I feel bad about that. If I did stop, maybe things would be different."

"I remember reading in the paper that they found a woman in the Avon River, 27-years-old, unnamed, known to be a prostitute. It did kind of dawn on me, but I thought, not her, she's too tough."

But when his then-girlfriend called saying the police were at his home, he "just knew straight away".

Manning's birthday was four days before Fawcett's trial started. She would have turned 33.

- The Press

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