Abuse in care victims appalled at way complaints of abuse, rape torture were handled

Abuse in care victims have labelled the way state and faith-based institutions managed complaints of abuse, rape and torture as "absolutely despicable".   

The Royal Commission delivered a scathing assessment of how state and faith-based institutions managed complaints.

Commission chair Judge Coral Shaw said she's "deeply appalled", with her report stating survivors' accounts were "downplayed, disbelieved or dismissed".

The Commission found the Crown "used aggressive tactics or hid behind technical defences" in the hope complainants would give up. 

The church moved abusers around, "sometimes in secret", where they would "go on to abuse others".

Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins called the delays the survivors are facing getting redress a "national disgrace" and agreed with the Commission's recommendation to set up an independent body set up to handle complaints. 

Keith Wiffin was sexually abused at Epuni Boys Home in the 1970s and it had life-altering impacts.

But the horror didn't end when he left. He then sought justice from the Crown but got anything but fair treatment. 

"Absolutely despicable and at times that has amounted to an obstruction and a perversion of the course of justice," Wiffin told Newshub. 

His abuser was Alan Moncreif-Wright - a known child sex offender. 

In 2007, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) chief executive, Peter Hughes, promised a "serious and fair" investigation. 

That never happened. Instead, Crown Law adopted an "unnecessarily adversarial, legalistic and aggressive" approach.

Emails show it hoped complainants "may give up along the way".

The Ministry and Crown knew Wiffin's abuser was a convicted sex offender, but when he asked for such information, the Ministry said it "held no information about any allegations of physical or sexual abuse".

"One hundred percent deceived and that's part of the overall deception and it wasn't just applied to me, it was applied to others," Wiffin said. 

Judge Shaw has been hearing 15 weeks of accounts just like Wiffin's. 

"I'm personally deeply appalled," Shaw said. "The evidence is shocking, it's distressing."

Or in Leoni McInroe's case, it was torture, literally. She was given electric shocks and drugged as punishment at Lake Alice by Dr Selwyn Leeks. 

She went to the Crown thinking their team of lawyers would treat her complaint with fairness and compassion. 

"Years of delay, bullying, intimidation tactics, deceptive, trickery - [it was] retraumatizing," McInroe said.  

The Commission found Crown Law took an "unacceptably long time" to assess her complaint, failed to recognise her claim had merit and then offered an inadequate apology for its failings. 

McInroe believes it was all about ensuring the Crown's reputation wasn't damaged and that it minimised costs.

The Commission wants a new body for management of complaints. 

  • That's fully independent. 
  • That provides financial payments that give "meaningful recognition" of harm suffered.
  • And involves survivors in the form and content of apologies. 

"We're calling on the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and the heads of faith-based institutions to give a proper apology," Shaw said. 

Wiffin said: "I'm absolutely over the moon with the report. It's an all-encompassing report."

Hipkins says the drawn-out process for victims should not have happened and called it a "national disgrace".

The new complaints body for victims will be set up. 

"They deserve to be treated fairly and that's exactly what we want to do," Hipkins said."

McInroe was "deeply grateful" for the report and for what it means moving forward. 

But she still has reservations about the Crown's true intent. 

Newshub put direct questions to Crown Law asking if it accepted it had been deliberately deceptive. It didn't answer that question. 

Instead it issued a general statement saying it acknowledged the Commission's findings, and conceded it hasn't always met the high standards "people expect of us" and "we apologise". 

The Solicitor-General says significant changes have been made. 

MSD's deputy chief executive of people and capability told Newshub it's taken on board the Commission's findings. 

"We are committed to listening and learning from the Royal Commission and survivors of abuse, and making changes to our claims and redress system."

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