Accused defends culture of silence

Last updated 13:00 31/10/2012

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The home in which a severely intellectually disabled teenager was allegedly repeatedly assaulted by his carer had a culture of "what happens in the house, stays in the house", a court has heard.

Tahunanui woman Linda Pearl Ericson, 62, has denied six charges of common assault relating to a then-16-year-old boy under her care.

The jury of three men and nine women in the Nelson District Court before Judge Tony Zohrab was expected to begin deliberations today.

The alleged victim of the assault, now 19, is one of the most highly supported individuals in New Zealand, and suffers from multiple intellectual disabilities, including Down syndrome and autism. He has to be cared for around the clock by two support workers or caregivers.

During the trial four witnesses, all former colleagues of Ericson, told the jury they had each seen her assault the boy on various occasions, including punching and kicking him, dragging him by his hair, and holding him against a wall by his throat.

Yesterday, asked about the "what happens in the house, stays in the house" idea, Ericson said it was about professionalism, with staff told not to discuss the details of the boy's care, or any issues involving him or his family.

"What you do in a home is private, you don't go blurting things out and this was happening [with staff]," she said.

In addition, staff would discuss the private lives of other staff members, something she thought was probably the case in most workplaces.

Former colleague Rob Jenkins had told the court on Monday that on a trip to Rabbit Island shortly after Ericson started, the boy had tripped her up, and she became enraged, raining punches and kicks down on him until Mr Jenkins got between the two.

Ericson denied this, saying the boy had tripped her up and jumped on top of her, injuring her ribs.

Mr Jenkins got the boy off her, and she went back to the van while Mr Jenkins and the boy played a game where Mr Jenkins would foot-trip him, she said.

Ericson also denied Mr Jenkins description of another event outside Maitai School when he said she had scratched the boy's neck after he scratched hers, saying words to the effect of "see how you like it".

Ericson said the boy had moved in to give her a hug, and Mr Jenkins had yelled out for him to stop.

She held his head in an attempt to calm him, and did not notice any scratches on his neck.

The next day while showering him, she noticed a small scratch behind his ear, and said if she had caused the scratch it was not intentional.

She repeatedly denied the other accusations of punching, kicking, hair pulling, or holding the boy by the throat, saying she could not answer why her former co-workers had alleged the events had occurred.

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"How can I? I didn't do that, I

wouldn't do that," she said.

Crown prosecutor Mark O'Donoghue said in his closing submissions fellow carers had been afraid to speak out in case they lost their jobs.

One witness had said "you see things, you hear things, if you want to keep your job, keep your mouth shut".

Mr Jenkins had tried to speak out about the assaults he had witnessed, but the forms that he filled out had gone missing, and manager Judy Browning had not pursued the case as hard as she could have, Mr O'Donoghue said.

"What more could he do? He told her in full about the assaults, where it was taken from there no-one will ever know."

Defence counsel Andrew McKenzie said Ericson was a 62-year-old woman without a prior criminal record. Ericson denied the witnesses' claims, but she did not have to go further and provide a motive for why they were lying, he said.

The specific allegations against Ericson lacked both internal and external credibility. The jury was expected to believe that Ericson kicked the boy in the presence of one witness, pulled his hair in the presence of another, and grabbed him by the throat in the presence of another.

They were also expected to believe that after the police had interviewed her about the allegations, she continued to assault the boy in the presence of a new employee to the house.

The idea that those who saw her assaulting the boy had not come forward out of fear of losing their jobs was not credible, as evidence showed they had complained about other issues, and some still worked at the facility.

The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board was not on trial, and convicting Ericson was not the way to show disapproval of the systems in place.

- Nelson

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