7 May 2014

Clapping after CYF carers acquitted

8:52 pm on 7 May 2014

Applause broke out in the public gallery of the Auckland District Court after jurors cleared two former Child, Youth and Family carers of abusing boys in their care.

The jurors' deliberations were short and the verdict was unanimous on all 14 charges of assault and ill-treatment of three boys between 2004 and 2010.

Andrew Hemara, 53, and wife Jenny-Lee Hemara, 49, denied they did done anything wrong.

Two of the three boys claimed they were repeatedly kicked, punched, and had things thrown at them. They said they were forced to sleep outside without blankets and were made to run until they threw up.

The couple's lawyer argued the stories did not add up and the incidents never happened.

At the start of the trial the pair faced more than 30 charges of assaulting and ill-treating boys between 2004 and 2010 but the jury considered verdicts for 14 because some claims were retracted during the trial.

The jury retired at 11.40am on Wednesday and returned less than two hours later.

Judge Russell Collins told the court some might think the system was broken for the pair to end up in court but it would have been wrong if the allegations were dismissed without a hearing.

People in the public gallery applauded the jury after the verdicts and later the judge.

The couple said afterwards the case should never have happened.

"But everyone just goes by what their policies and all that are," he said, "and as soon as a young person jumps up and makes a noise, in our case, they should have just been talking to us all the way."

Mr Hemara says it felt like he and his wife were presumed guilty as soon as the allegations, which he described as hurtful, were made.

The publicity, he said, had been a challenge for them, "the condemnation and all that".

"Once something is said or done, it's hard to take back and that's going to be our hardest thing. I've always said that those that know us, know us. Those that don't will naturally condemn us."

Their lawyer, Belinda Sellars, said they never abused the foster boys they were caring for.

She said she knew it was important to investigate when complaints were made but a lot of the things they claimed were outrageous and unsupported.

Ms Sellars said the case had taken an extraordinary toll on the couple over four years.

Meanwhile, Child Youth and Family is defending the prosecution and said the couple's caregiver status had been revoked.

Auckland Regional Director Sharon Thom said while the Hemaras were found not guilty of criminal charges in court, the department's own investigations were substantiated.

The use of physical force as a means of disciplining was completely unacceptable to the department but the Hemaras ignored that, she said.