'I gave you my son and you returned him broken'

IN COURT: The family of Alec Meikle, sister Rebecca, third from left, mother Andrea, second from right, and father Richard Meikle, right, leave court.
IN COURT: The family of Alec Meikle, sister Rebecca, third from left, mother Andrea, second from right, and father Richard Meikle, right, leave court.

The mother of a teenage apprentice who died in New Zealand after being allegedly bullied at work says she gave his employer her son, and they returned him broken.

After enduring a nine-day inquest in Sydney into his death, Alec Meikle's mother Andrea told reporters her son had been treated appallingly at train manufacturer Downer EDI.

''We gave Downer EDI our son. Five months later, they returned him broken,'' she said.

DIED: Alec Meikle
DIED: Alec Meikle

Alec, 17, died at his aunt's home in New Zealand in October 2008 after allegedly suffering months of abuse from senior colleagues while employed at Downer EDI's Bathurst plant in New South Wale's  central west.

There the young apprentice was called a ''useless f***ing c***'' daily, burnt with a welding torch and had his mistakes publicly recorded on a chart that threatened anal rape by a steel pole if he notched up a certain count, the inquest has heard.

Andrea said the family felt they had a moral obligation to tell Alec's story.

''Every person ... must have the right to go to work and return unharmed."

She said Alec had been singled out by older staff, and that the workplace had facilitated his abuse.

Voice wavering momentarily, Andrea said her life, and those of Alec's father and siblings, would be incomplete without him.

State laws should be passed to criminalise bullying in the workplace, the Meikle family's lawyer Bill Walsh told the inquest.

He cited Victoria's Brodie's Law, introduced in 2011 after 19-year-old waitress Brodie Panlock took her own life after being relentlessly bullied by her colleagues.

Companies should also assign 'apprentice masters' to guide young trainees, and an independent body be established to oversee how apprenticeships were being conducted, he said.

While well-intentioned, such changes could exceed the ''economic realities of life'' for some businesses, Downer EDI lawyer G.J. Hatcher said.

He said the inquest needed to conclusively establish Alec's treatment at Downer EDI was the cause of death, and not just a contributing factor.

While noting lack of supervision as a critical issue, Ross Hudson, the lawyer representing the alleged bullies, said it was  also hard to say if Alec already had depressive symptoms before starting at Downer.

He said Alec had told a psychiatrist he'd been bullied for five years just weeks before taking his life, and, as such, it was possible his mental health was fragile before he started his five-month apprenticeship.

''You can't just say, 'that's the cause, that's the reason','' he told the court.

''And unfortunately that's the kind of case we (have) here.''

Deputy state coroner Paul MacMahon will return his findings at a later date.

The case is also being investigated by a New Zealand coroner as the death occurred in New Zealand.

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.

On the night of October 30, 2008, Alec's aunt and cousin arrived home to find him dead. 

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 talk@youthline.co.nz

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 team@thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626 (emails and text messages will be responded to between 12 noon and 12 midnight).