Former South Taranaki school caretaker jailed for sexual abuse

Dennis Richard Burkitt was jailed for 8 years after being found guilty of sexually abusing four girls in Hawera between ...
CHARLOTTE CURD/Fairfax NZ

Dennis Richard Burkitt was jailed for 8 years after being found guilty of sexually abusing four girls in Hawera between 2006-2007.

A former South Taranaki school caretaker has been jailed for sexually abusing four young girls.

On Wednesday, Dennis Richard Burkitt was sent to prison for eight years on three charges of sexual violation via unlawful sexual connection and five charges of sexual conduct with a child under 12.

In October, he was found guilty of all charges following a week long jury trial in the New Plymouth District Court. At the time of the offending, which took place between 2006-2007, Burkitt was employed at Hawera Primary School as its caretaker.  

During his trial, the four victims gave evidence about how Burkitt got them alone and assaulted them. This usually involved him touching various parts of their bodies or rubbing himself up against them.  At the time the girls were aged between 8-9 years old.

At his sentencing, one of the complainants, now aged 17, said the assaults had changed her life forever.

"Prior to him doing what he did I was a happy little girl and afterwards I was angry and confused," she said in her victim impact statement, which was read on her behalf.

While she said she went on to experience problems with her education and personal relationships, the recent trial process had also been a "horrifying" time for her too.

"Having to live the whole thing again was damaging. I have been scarred twice because of what he did," she said.

The mother of another victim told the court how her "charismatic, cheeky, affectionate little girl" had turned into young woman who wore an "invisible mask" of pain and hurt.

"I am grieving for the pain my little girl went through and the loss of the young woman she should have grown into," she said.

During her address, Judge Stephanie Edwards gave the 71-year-old a 10 per cent credit for his previous good character but said nothing else was available to offset the length of the prison sentence due to Burkitt's ongoing attitude toward what had happened.

"You maintain a complete denial of your offending and do not accept the jury's verdicts," she said.

She said the level of harm caused to the victims and the fall-out the families involved had faced as a result of the offending also had to be acknowledged. 

"You abused the trust all parents have that their children will be safe at school," Edwards said.

Crown prosecutor Justin Marinovich sought a starting point of nine years jail for the offending, which he described as planned and premeditated.

He said Burkitt would get the girls on their own and go to secluded areas on the school grounds, including his caretakers shed, to abuse them.

Marinovich said the harm caused to the victims, their vulnerability at the time of the offending and the breach of trust involved were all significant factors which needed to be taken into account.  

He also asked Edwards to consider suppressing the name of the school involved.

However, Edwards said there were no legal grounds to grant this order and based on the information she had, she did not believe the identities of the victims would be revealed by naming the school.  

By law, victims of sexual offending have their names automatically suppressed.

Burkitt's lawyer Steve Winter said his client had read the victim impact statements and was aware he faced significant jail time.

When contacted about the case by Fairfax Media, the current Hawera Primary School principal Neryda Sullivan said she had no comment to make. 

 - Stuff

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