Moko inspires petition to ban plea bargains

Moko Rangitoheriri (supplied)
Moko Rangitoheriri (supplied)

There are calls to abolish plea bargains following the brutal death of three year old Moko Rangitoheriri.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust has launched a petition after his killers' charges were downgraded from murder to manslaughter.

"Sometimes it takes a catalyst like Moko to actually change things, and this will be that catalyst for change," says founder Garth McVicar.

Three-year-old Moko died in August last year after sustaining abuse at the hands of his caregivers, Tania Shailer and David Haerewa.

Mr McVicar says the reduced sentences set a dangerous precedent for future cases of a similar nature.

"Anybody who commits an atrocity like that -- the defence is going to enter a plea bargain."

The petition has so far drawn just over 1000 signatures.

Yesterday, a Maori Women's Refuge worker spoke about her contact with Moko before his death, saying she wishes she could have helped him.

Social worker Trina Marama says she would have done anything to prevent Moko's abuse if she had known what was going on.

"There were no signs or alarming signs that Moko was being abused," she told Maori Television's Native Affairs.

"If I could have helped Moko I would have in a heartbeat. I would have picked him up and taken him home."

Child Youth and Family (CYF) staff and Ms Marama met with Shailer less than two weeks before Moko's death. Shailer had indicated a personal strain from looking after two extra children, but did not mention any abuse.

"Tania indicated [caring for Moko and his sister] was not a long-term option, but she said she was prepared to look after the children for a bit longer. We felt there was agreement on this," a CYF statement said.

"Given all the information we had there was nothing to suggest that the children were unsafe in Tania's care."

Ms Marama says she also did not sense anything wrong in the meeting.

"Nothing in that hui alerted me or CYF to any abuse being put on Moko. There was no urgency placed on this. There was a conversation had that Tania wasn't coping with six children in a small house."

Moko was dead just 11 days later -- a tragedy Ms Marama puts down to Shailer's ability to lie convincingly.

"[She was a] very good actress, very practised at what she did," she says.

"To do the kinds of things to Moko that we know about now, and then to go out in the community and portray herself as being a loving, caring, nurturing mummy and aunty -- what kaka.

"I'm not a new person in this. I know the signs and I knew nothing of Moko's abuse at all. Through the time that I had his sister, it was never disclosed."

Ms Marama said she was also unaware Haerewa -- Shailer's partner -- was living in the same household.

"Tania never told me about a man in her home. I thought it was just her. I knew nothing of Moko's abuse, not from his sister and certainly not from Tania."

In an interview with Story earlier this month, Moko's mother Nicola Dally-Paki said social workers were at least partially to blame for her son's death. But Ms Marama said nothing indicated Moko was living in a dangerous household.

"I'm so sorry that has happened to her. I can't help something I don't know. There were no alarming signs that Moko was getting abused."

Ms Marama had previously worked to relocate Shailer when she was attempting to escape her violent past three years ago.

A coroner will investigate the role of CYF in Moko's death.