Family of Gloriavale teen Prayer Ready ask for an inquest
Family members of a teenage girl with Down Syndrome who died in strange circumstances at Gloriavale have asked the Solicitor-General to order an inquest into her death.
Prayer Ready, 14, was the focus of a Stuff Circuit investigation in 2016 into her death from asphyxiation after she choked on a piece of meat, while in an isolation room on which the door handles had been disabled.
Stuff Circuit has learned police have contacted the family to ask fresh questions about the events on that night.
Coroner Marcus Elliott did not hold an inquest, but did visit the isolated Christian community to investigate.
In his findings, he said, "Prayer was a much loved member of the Gloriavale community. Her death was a tragic accident. It did not result from any want of care on the part of her family or Gloriavale."
But, dissatisfied with that outcome, members of Prayer's family - her aunt Ruth Green, her sister Connie Ready and her brother David Ready - have written to Solicitor-General Una Jagose asking that an inquest be ordered under the Coroner's Act, which allows for further inquiry if there's sufficient reason.
Coroner Elliott was shown the isolation room where Prayer had died, and concluded, "The handle of the door to the room in which Prayer died was disabled. This meant it was not possible to enter or exit through the door at the time. However a window in the room provided a point of access through which a number of people came to attempt to assist Prayer when she was choking. The fact that the door was disabled did not contribute to her death in any way."
In the letter, Ruth Green wrote, "After the Coroner's visit, my sister Sharon Ready [Prayer's mother] and I had a conversation in which she shared with me the manipulation of testimonies given to the Coroner about the facts that led to her daughter's death."
Green also told Stuff Circuit that "not only was Prayer's death avoidable, any responsibility for the leaders' decisions that contributed to her death, was covered up."
A second Stuff Circuit investigation last year revealed the concerns of Prayer's siblings that the leaders of Gloriavale had manipulated the Coroner into believing the disabled door handles played no part in Prayer's death.
Connie Ready, now living outside the community, said, "Right outside that door is the central telephone system. You can't tell me… you can't… that it was just as easy to jump out the window, run around the verandah, into the hostel to get to the telephone, when you could [have just opened] the door, and it's right there.
"My mum said to me, as soon as Prayer started choking her first reaction was to go for the telephone, or open the door and call out, because everyone lives right there, call out for some help, but she couldn't do that."
When helpers did come, they had to climb in and out through the window.
An elder brother, David Ready, who was a first responder to the emergency, said a meeting was called by the leaders in advance of the coroner's visit to Gloriavale.
The purpose, he said, was to "sort out what we're going to tell the coroner."
And he says on the morning the coroner visited Gloriavale, "[the leaders] got the whole family together to make sure everyone was going to toe the line."
Asked whether he felt he could tell the coroner the truth: "I didn't even get an opportunity to talk with him.
"[The leaders] did most of the talking, they just totally dominated the situation, even though they weren't there when Prayer died."
Prayer Ready and her mother, Sharon Ready, photographed shortly before Prayer died. (SUPPLIED)
In the letter to the Solicitor-General, Green said, [My sister] told me…. she made every attempt to tell the Coroner that what she was saying to him, was what the leaders had told her to say.
"I believe the leaders at Gloriavale manipulated the Coroner because there were multiple aspects they didn't want him to hear.
"To achieve justice for Prayer, and a fair finding as to the reasons for her death, I firmly believe there needs to be an inquest at which all witnesses are able to speak freely."
A spokesperson for Crown Law wouldn't confirm the letter had been received or whether any action was being taken.
Normally, however, the Solicitor-General would make the decision based on a review of what had happened and information from police and the Coroner, the spokesperson said.
Since 2011, there had been 60 such requests. Five had led to calls for new or further inquiries.
She said she has since met with them and was given the opportunity to clarify the events leading up to what happened on the night her sister Prayer died, and what happened surrounding the visit from the coroner.
Connie Ready said she was also able to point out what she believes was wrong in the Coroner's report.
Stuff Circuit sought copies of statements given to police by Gloriavale community members on the night Prayer died, but police refused to hand them over, citing, in part, Prayer's privacy.
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier upheld the decision, saying that "publication of the Coroner's findings containing the pertinent information gathered by police during their [initial] investigation" had satisfied the public interest in the case.
* Stuff Circuit is a team producing video-led, quality longform journalism for Stuff. The team of Paula Penfold, Toby Longbottom, Phil Johnson and Eugene Bingham have a background in high-profile investigative stories.