Editorial: Kahui murders still NZ's shame

Last updated 05:00 20/10/2012

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OPINION: The nation's restlessness over the Kahui baby murders will continue even though the police have downed tools. We cannot, in good conscience, pretend we have done all we can.

It is entirely understandable the police have no plans to charge anyone else with the deaths of babies Cris and Cru Kahui. They fingered the boys' father Chris but he was acquitted. After a seven-week hearing the jury needed 15 minutes to reach its verdict. A subsequent coroner's inquest entirely supported the police's accusation.

Two months after the trial, a law change was enacted allowing retrials of acquitted persons under certain circumstances. This does not, of course, apply retrospectively. Kahui remains protected against being retried for murder by the laws of double jeopardy.

Even understanding this, it's much harder to get to grips with why different charges are not being laid.

It was clear a perjury case was a real possibility if the police chose to investigate whether Kahui lied under oath.

That this has come to naught is puzzling.

And what of the culpability of the extended family, dysfunctional as they were? Given that there was such a mixture of old and fresh injuries on those young bodies and an all-but-incomprehensible failure by adults to act with any great urgency to get the babies to hospital, the potential for that clumsily worded charge of failing to supply the necessaries of life looms large indeed.

If that charge does not apply in a case such as this, shocking in its details of collective adult abrogation of responsibilities, then when does it?

Kahui's lawyer, Lorraine Smith, reminds the public that the inquest, which was a three-week hearing, did not compare with the court hearing which ran more than twice as long. That is true in a couple of respects but a key one is that coroner Garry Evans had an advantage the criminal court did not - Chris Kahui gave evidence.

Mr Evans found his evidence seriously conflicted in nature, lacking in credibility and in many cases untrue.

His finding entirely exonerated the children's mother Macsyna King. The fatal injuries were incurred while the babies were in the sole custody, care and control of their father. As part of his findings, Mr Evans called for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse by frontline health workers and teachers. But the Government was unconvinced.

Its white paper on child abuse hasn't taken up that option, with Social Development Minister Paula Bennett saying there's already a high level of reporting and making it mandatory might lead to families not taking their children to doctors for fear of being reported.

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So instead there's to be a new code of practice and all frontline workers in the public sector, like doctors and teachers, will be be trained in spotting signs of abuse by 2015.

That scarcely suffices.

New Zealand's level of child abuse remains among the darkest stains on our national character. Cries for greater community vigilance are justified in themselves, but must not be permitted to rattle around in general terms. One key way to show greater community vigilance is to resource, far better than we do, the ranks of CYF's child protection service.

It really isn't just a case of those social workers being better organised, or even more skilful than they are.

Since we are incapable of reducing their workload, the absolute least we can do is increase their numbers and their capacity to handle the workload.

That will cost more, taxpayers. Suck it up.

- The Southland Times

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