In March 2008, teenager Alec Meikle began a train-building apprenticeship he believed would ‘‘start his journey through life’’.
But within three months, the 16-year-old had allegedly been subjected to such relentless, violent bullying by his new supervisor and workmates that the once ‘‘happy, bubbly’’ youth had become ‘‘a sad, round-shouldered boy’’.
By October of that year, Alec was dead.
The role the alleged bullying played in his death is a central focus of a coronial inquest taking place at Glebe Coroner’s Court this week.
The case is also being investigated by a New Zealand coroner as the death occurred in New Zealand.
The opening day of the inquest on Monday heard that, having left school at 16, Alec began an apprenticeship at the Bathurst premises of engineering company Downer EDI, an operation which builds an maintains trains for RailCorp.
The inquest heard that within three days of beginning his apprenticeship, Alec was regularly being called a ‘‘f---’n useless c--t’’.
Over the ensuing weeks the teenager was allegedly burnt with a welding torch, sprayed with adhesive and set on fire.
Several of his colleagues also allegedly threatened to rape him with a steel dildo.
Accompanying these incidents, the inquest heard, was near constant verbal abuse.
‘‘He said the first day was fantastic, second day fantastic and then the abuse started,’’ Alec’s father, Richard Meikle told the inquest.
Meikle said Alec told him the main perpetrator was his direct supervisor, Colin Wiggins, along with another colleague, Ben Eagle.
‘‘He said because his supervisor was leading it, he didn’t have anyone standing up for him, anyone to talk to about it,’’ Meikle said.
Alec’s parents began to notice he was becoming agitated and withdrawn. They said, initially, he refused to say what was going on but eventually opened up.
‘‘He said, ‘dad, how many times would you want to hear the words you useless f---’n c--t day after day after day?’’’ Meikle said. ‘‘He became a sad, round-shouldered boy.’’
The bullying allegedly continued for three months, until May 2008 when Alec left the company.
Soon after, the teenager was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, and later, an adjustment disorder.
He was admitted to the mental health wing of Bathurst Hospital for short period and seemed to improve but, not long after being released, he attempted suicide in the family’s downstairs gym room.
‘‘I’m a failure, I can’t even kill myself,’’ Alec reportedly told his parents after the suicide attempt.
Alec’s parents arranged for him to return to New Zealand – where the family had migrated from in 2002 – to live with his aunt and uncle and have further treatment.
But on the night of October 30, 2008 Alec’s aunt and cousin arrived home to find him dead.
The inquest heard an internal investigation by Downer EDI found Alec had been subject to little or no supervision, instruction or training, and was given work above his level.
It also found he had been subjected to sarcasm, verbal abuse and put downs as well as the bullying incidents he reported.
A subsequent WorkCover investigation found that while the company had an anti-bullying policy, the alleged bullying behaviour had been allowed to ‘‘manifest’’ during Alec’s apprenticeship.
The inquest continues.
Where can I get support and help?
Below is a list of some of the services available which offer support, information and help. All services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week unless otherwise specified.
Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Depression Helpline (8 am to 12 midnight) - 0800 111 757
Healthline - 0800 611 116
Kidsline (aimed at children up to 14 years of age; 4 pm to 6 pm weekdays) - 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline)
Samaritans - 0800 726 666 (for callers from the Lower North Island, Christchurch and West Coast) or 0800 211 211 / (04) 473 9739 (for callers from all other regions)
Suicide Crisis Helpline (aimed at those in distress, or those who are concerned about the wellbeing of someone else; 12 noon to 12 midnight) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand - www.spinz.co.nz
What's Up (for 5-18 year olds; 1 pm to 11 pm) - 0800 942 8787
www.thelowdown.co.nz - visit the website, email email@example.com or free text 5626 (emails and text messages will be responded to between 12 noon and 12 midnight).