5 May 2017

Teacher found guilty of smacking, force-feeding

7:08 pm on 5 May 2017

A day-care centre supervisor and teacher has been found guilty of 10 charges of assaulting children in her care.

Lynn Abraham

Lynn Abraham, 59, has been found guilty of assaulting children by smacking and force-feeding. Photo: RNZ / Edward Gay

Lynn Euphemia Abraham was found guilty today of 10 of 11 charges, of smacking children, force-feeding others and washing a boy's mouth out with soap, following a five-day trial in the Auckland District Court.

Abraham wept and hugged her partner and sister after the jury had left the courtroom.

She was cleared of a charge alleging she sellotaped over a four-year-old's mouth.

Three of Abraham's previous colleagues from the Bright Minds day-care centre in St Johns gave evidence against the 59-year-old. They detailed allegations that Abraham smacked children, force-fed others and washed a child's mouth out after he had sworn.

But none of them blew the whistle, despite some of the allegations dating back to 2012.

It took a part-time special needs teacher, employed by the Ministry of Education, to alert police and Child Youth and Family.

Just why the three teachers kept quiet was not answered at trial, although one of the teachers, Ines Miranda, was asked why she did not raise her concerns with Abraham.

Ms Miranda told the court she was not a qualified teacher and Abraham was the manager, her senior. She said she felt Abraham must know what she was doing.

The Ministry of Education said it welcomed the verdict, and it was concerned none of the other teachers had spoken up.

Spokesperson Katrina Casey said if any teacher saw a child being mistreated, the ministry expected them to take action immediately.

The ministry had reclassified the centre's license to a provisional one, she said.

Abraham has been released on bail and is due to be sentenced in July.

Judge June Jelas ordered a report to look into whether the parents of Abraham's victims would agree to take part in a restorative justice conference.

That could be taken into account at sentencing.

'You can't fight with a two-year-old'

The Crown said the abuse was the result of the stress and strain Abraham was under.

Prosecutor Brian Dickey said the evidence from three of Abraham's colleagues was generally consistent - all saw her hit the children.

Mr Dickey took the jurors through each charge.

On one occasion, Abraham was said to have smacked a child who was running around. When the child cried she was said to have told him: "You've nothing to cry about."

Mr Dickey said that amounted to gratuitous violence.

Another charge related to smacking a child with learning difficulties when he cried and refused to pack up pens. He was said to have been smacked and told: "This is what you cry for."

Mr Dickey recounted the evidence of another teacher who said Abraham was hit by a two-year-old and she responded by hitting the child back. Mr Dickey said the law was plain: "You can't fight with a two-year-old."

Another charge related to a witness saying she saw Abraham forcing food into a one-year-old's mouth and holding her hand over the baby's mouth.

A four-year-old was said to have been force-fed their own vomit.

The defence case

But Abraham's lawyer, Graeme Newell, said many of the incidents never happened.

He also addressed the vomit allegation.

Mr Newell said the witness and fellow teacher, Jennifer Wong, spoke English as a second language.

He said initially Ms Wong used the words "threw out food", that changed to "throw-up" and later in her evidence she used the word "vomit".

Mr Newell said one of the charges - that Abraham sellotaped a child's mouth up - was said to have happened in 2012. It took three and a half years for Abraham to be charged. He pointed out the only Crown witness to give evidence on the allegation initially said it happened in 2016, then 2015 and even 2013. He said that had to leave the jury in a state of doubt.

He also addressed a charge relating to Abraham washing a child's mouth out with soap. Mr Newell said Abraham washed around the boy's mouth after he swore at a teacher. He said no one else saw the incident take place.

He finished his summing up by asking the jury if they could be sure of the evidence or were they left in some doubt.

Charges and verdicts

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