Family of Malachi Subecz say he'd still be alive if Oranga Tamariki took their concerns seriously

Warning: This story contains details that some may find distressing.

The family of murdered five-year-old Malachi Subecz say if Oranga Tamariki (OT) had taken them seriously, he would still be alive today - and the Chief Ombudsman agrees.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has slammed the child protection agency for what he calls a "litany of failures" before the boy's death.

Malachi's cousin, who Newshub has agreed not to name, said he was a good and happy little boy. 

"If you asked him to eat his dinner, he would eat his dinner. If you asked him to go to bed, he would go to bed."

Today, pictures and toys are all his family has left. His cousin had been fighting for custody since Malachi's mother went to jail.

"I was confident, I was pretty sure on our last court date we'd be bringing him home."

But instead, Malachi remained in the care of his mother's friend Michaela Barriball. 

Barriball would go on to burn him and beat the boy. He was 16kg when admitted to hospital and the little five-year-old boy was dead within five months of Barriball's care.

She is a woman his family had warned OT was a danger to him from the very start.

"It was more like a gut feeling that there was something not right, and once I did some digging and realised who she was and other things, that's when I was really concerned of where he was."

A breakdown of events

  • June 21, 2021 - Malachi's mother jailed: Malachi went into Barriball's care when his mother was jailed in June last year.
  • June 22, 2021 - Report of concern: His family reported concerns the next day.
  • June 28, 2021 - Photograph of abuse: His cousin sent a photo of suspected abuse to Oranga Tamariki six days later.
  • June 29, 2021 - No further action: But OT decided no action was needed.
  • November 1, 2021 - Malachi hospitalised: By November, Malachi was critically injured.
  • November 12, 2021 - Malachi dies.

His cousin told Newshub that OT "put it into the too-hard basket". 

"It's like they couldn’t be bothered looking further into."

They added their worst fears soon became true. His family said if OT had listened, Malachi would be here today.

"He'd be alive, he'd be playing with his cousins and going to school."

The Chief Ombudsman is now calling OT's failures some of the worst he's ever seen.

"It's arguable that he would be [alive], isn't it, because there was evidence of concern," Boshier said.

The Ombudsman found OT never opened an investigation or followed the "bare minimum" legal requirement to notify the Police.

"The state failed Malachi."

OT's chief executive Chappie Te Kani accepted OT's failure. 

"We should have done everything in our power to keep Malachi safe, and we did not."

But not that it could've prevented his death.

"Do you accept that if OT had done its job, Malachi would be alive today?" Newshub asked.

"Um, I accept the recommendations of the Chief Ombudsman," Te Kani replied. 

Those recommendations include an apology. Malachi's cousin is not ready yet.

"I don't think an apology that they've been made to do would mean very much until they can accept the findings that have been noted."

Children's Minster Kelvin Davis said the Ombudsman's investigation raises serious concerns, but didn't pass any further judgement.

He's waiting on Oranga Tamariki's investigation of itself and another independent investigation due to report by the end of the year.

Today marks the first step in the fight for justice for Malachi Subecz - who will forever be five.