22 Sep 2020

Abuse in state care inquiry: Survivor calls for independent claims process

4:00 pm on 22 September 2020

A man who was abused as a child while in a boys' home has pleaded with the Royal Commission looking into abuse in state care to ensure future generations are safeguarded from the suffering he and many others endured.


Photo: 123rf.com

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care has resumed its public hearings in Auckland on Monday focusing on evidence from survivors of abuse who have sought redress for what happened to them.

Keith Wiffin, 60, was abused while at the Epuni Boys' Home.

He was made a ward of the state from the age of 11.

From the moment he went into the Epuni Boys' Home in the 1970s, he was subjected to violence from the other boys and some housemasters.

He was sexually abused by one of them, Alan Moncrief-Wright, who was later convicted on a number of sexual violation charges against other boys at about the same time.

''He abused me on a number of occasions. I didn't tell anybody of it at the time because I was terrified of Moncrief-Wright.''

Wiffen went from Epuni into a family home and was abused there too.

He said state care and the abuse by Moncrief-Wright has had a devastating effect on his life.

''I dealt with things in different ways, at time alcohol abuse was a problem. I was in denial much of the time as a form of self-defence protection mechanism. As I got older, it started to become a real problem, depression, nightmares, often featuring Alan Moncrief-Wright.''

Keith Wiffin.

Keith Wiffin. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Wiffen wants to ensure today's youth do not suffer the same fate.

"This requires officials in the relevant government agencies to engage with us constructively to put things in place that will deal with the historical element, and also giving those in care now better options for the future than we had."

He said there was still time for officials to adopt a new and enlightened attitude.

"You still have the opportunity to cover yourselves in a bit of glory."

He said the starting point for change must start with a survivor's experience of abuse being unconditionally acknowledged.

"Secondly, and very important for me personally, any claims process must be independent of the ministries and agencies that represent the perpetrators and who themselves are liable for the abuse."

Wiffen said government agencies could not be trusted to investigate themselves and do so objectively.

He said the process around seeking redress had been long and drawn out and littered with obstacles.

He cites the records of his time in care.

"The deletions, the redactions, and the destruction of records is a complete and utter obscenity. It is designed as a tool to obstruct justice."

Wiffin said it prevented survivors from getting an acknowledgment of the abuse they suffered and limits the Crown's liability.

'He's nearly 50 years old, he still has nightmares'

The Royal Commission has also been told of a young man being assaulted by a teacher at a school for the deaf in the 1980s.

James Packer, 49, was hit, slapped and intimidated by a teacher.

Packer is Ngāti Maniapoto. He is also deaf and has Asperger's.

He went to the Kelston School for the Deaf and then later ended up in the then Sunnyside Asylum in Christchurch.

While at Kelston he suffered numerous incidents of physical and emotional abuse.

His mother, Cheryl Munro, presented his evidence on his behalf to the commission.

Cheryl Munro.

Cheryl Munro, James Packer's mother, says expressions of regret for the way he was treated are meaningless to them both. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

"Being smacked open-handed around the head and being pushed hard in the chest in the classroom. Being punched in the stomach on one occasion at a swimming pool. The teacher hitting me when I was using sign language to communicate with other students. I also witnessed him hit other students using sign language on several occasions. Having to watch the teacher assault other students, and also being intimidated and discouraged not to use sign language or risk being further assaulted."

Packer was admitted to Sunnyside after being unable to cope with the grief he felt on the loss of his grandparents.

He was mistakenly diagnosed as schizophrenic and medicated accordingly.

Packer said at no time was a sign interpreter used and no information was forthcoming.

"During this time, I was heavily medicated with a cocktail of anti-psychotic drugs which left me crawling on the floor unable to walk. It took over two years before I was correctly diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome."

Packer received what was called a wellness-payment of $18,000 as a form of compensation for his time in psychiatric care.

Munro said for her and her son, expressions of regret for the way he was treated are meaningless to them both.

"I spent $450 last week on medication for James, $250 the week before. I live on a pension, $18,000 was nothing."

She told the commissioners the whānau and Packer's lawyers had to constantly justify why the claim was important.

"It's like the government was trying to make us feel guilty and when our lawyers work really hard to make progress we don't suppose the ministry has to obtain legal aid, so to us, the power imbalance seems unfair."

Munro said after 30 years Packer was still being medicated and the family was working to get this reduced.

His care was paramount, she said.

"James still puts clothes against his door to stop the brutal teacher coming in to attack him. He's nearly 50 years old, he still has nightmares."

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