Moko inquest: Police say social worker missed signs of child abuse

Police say one of the social workers working with Tania Shailer, who killed three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri, missed signs of his abuse - then covered it up.

A coroner's inquest into Moko's death is underway in Rotorua this week. He died on August 10, 2015 following weeks of abuse and neglect at the hands of Shailer, and David Haerewa. The pair was convicted of manslaughter and each sentenced to 17 years behind bars.

Trina Marama had worked with Shailer for around two years in her role at Māori Women's Refuge, and gave evidence at the inquest on Thursday.

Moko's mother Nicola Dally-Paki wasn't able to take care of Moko and his sister due to her history of being in a violent relationship. She asked Shailer to take care of them.

Ms Marama enrolled Moko's sister in a course she ran for children who had witnessed domestic violence, and says the child told her Shailer had hit Moko.

The girl demonstrated and folded the tips of her finger and pushed. She said: "but it didn't hurt Nanny Trinny". Ms Marama and her colleagues decided it was a disciplinary technique.

Ms Marama says she phoned Shailer afterward, who didn't say she was abusing Moko. However she did admit that she wasn't coping with looking after extra children, and the pair agreed to meet with Child, Youth, and Family.

Ms Marama says it was only after Moko's death she knew of any child abuse.

"I never knew Tania was punching Moko, I knew of sibling rivalry, nothing more," she says.

But her story differs from written police testimony submitted to the inquest.

Police say Ms Marama also confronted Shailer in their phone call, and asked whether she had been hitting Moko - but Shailer denied it.

Police say in their interview with Ms Marama, she also admitted she was aware Moko had black eyes.

But police say when Ms Marama was re-interviewed, she denied she'd ever asked Shailer whether she hit Moko.

According to police, "this retraction is clearly as a result of Marama realising she should have reported what were obvious signs that child abuse was going on in the Shailer/Haerewa household."

But Ms Marama has hit back at these allegations.

"There was no retraction from me. I was good at my job and made many reports of concern to CYF," she says.

"If I noticed any signs of adult abuse, I would have reported it."

Ms Marama says she has been singled out for blame.

"Why were other people offered name suppression, but not me? What about my family?" she asked.

"It's too late for name suppression for me, I'm going on Māori TV to tell my truth, my side of the story."