Backlog sparks fears for abused children
By TANYA KATTERNS - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 14/08/2009
Hundreds of abused children could still be living with their abusers after revelations a mountain of uninvestigated cases in Wairarapa is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Dominion Post understands the number of backlogged sex and physical abuse cases could be as high as 600 throughout the Wellington police district, and includes a case involving allegations against a Newlands teacher who is still teaching. A backlog of 108 files in Wairarapa was identified last year during the planning process for a new Wellington District Child Protection Team.
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The Independent Police Conduct Authority said on Wednesday it was investigating delays. Police were also conducting their own inquiry under the authority's direction. Though Wellington police chiefs said yesterday their focus on investigation had been on the Wairarapa files alone, the IPCA and Police Association have confirmed that the problem goes beyond the region.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg. We warned about this three years ago," Police Association president Greg O'Connor said.
Three years ago, Wairarapa Detective Sue Mackle emailed police chiefs to blow the whistle on her unmanageable workload.
Just one detective in Wairarapa has traditionally held the bulk of the area's child abuse files.
Assistant Police Commissioner Viv Rickard said the question of the effectiveness of resourcing child abuse investigations would be dealt with by the IPCA. Preparing a detailed national picture of child abuse cases and case management would be part of the work done as part of the inquiry.
Acting Wellington District Commander Gail Gibson has apologised for the more than 100 untouched child physical and sexual abuse cases files in Wairarapa.
Though the inquiry would focus on 108 unresolved cases in Wairarapa extending back at least three years, Operation Hope started 10 months ago to clear the mounting files has unveiled that caseload problems are rife throughout Wellington.
Police in Auckland and in Christchurch are also struggling to clear files some dating back two to three years. The IPCA is aware of the possibility of hundreds of unactioned files in Wellington district though the full extent will not be known for months.
Authority chairwoman Justice Lowell Goddard said the authority had asked police for a robust audit of child abuse files to determine whether or not delays had also happened in other districts.
Mrs Gibson said that despite the investigation, changes were already in place to step up child protection. A team of 10 specialised staff was likely to begin work in December and would focus entirely on child abuse files only.
Lessons still not learnt says father
The father of murdered Wairarapa girl Coral-Ellen Burrows says lessons learnt from his daughter's death should not be forgotten.
Ron Burrows, responding to two recent child abuse cases in his street in Putaruru, south Waikato, said promises were made in the wake of his daughter's death, and he was still waiting for them to be met.
"Back then they promised there was going to be wider co-operation between the police, the family courts, the district courts and CYF," he said. "As far as I can see it's hardly happening. All they have to do is simply talk to each other."
Members of the public also needed to get involved when they saw abuse, he said. "You've got to stand up."
Coral-Ellen, 6, was killed by her mother's partner, Steve Williams, in Featherston in 2003, after she refused to get out of his car and go to school. In a P-fuelled rage, he beat her to death then dumped her body on the shore of Lake Ferry.
He admitted murder and is serving a life sentence.