Taken By The State

Police to be questioned over uplift at school

The head of the family court says a Newsroom report on how police went to an Auckland school to make sure that a 12-year-old boy visited his father when he didn’t want to warrants further investigation.

Principal family court judge Jackie Moran says she will speak to police about the incident.

“An account of the execution of an uplift warrant reported by the Newsroom website today, if accurate, is concerning.

“I intend to seek assurances from police that uplift warrants issued following the breach of a court order under the Care of Children Act are executed sensitively, and in a child-focused manner.”

Last Friday police arrived at an Auckland school. They were not there for student safety, they were there to assist with a warrant to ensure a boy went on a weekend visit with his father.

Hundreds of pupils were made to wait in the assembly hall while the 12-year-old boy was escorted out and delivered to his father by the school principal amidst police presence. 

The police intervention was the outcome of events which started with the child confiding in a teacher about an event which occurred during a Labour Weekend bush walk. 

The boy claimed the father (who has custody of him every second weekend) dangled him over the side of a high bridge. There were boulders below and a fall would have most likely resulted in injury, if not death. 

Despite a police complaint about the claim, the boy was not interviewed by police regarding the dangling incident before they closed the file. 

The boy’s maternal grandmother has shared information with Newsroom, detailing the events which led to Friday’s police uplift made under a 'without notice' warrant. 

She called the situation a “diabolical mess”, where each agency failed the boy. 

“The Family Courts, the police and the school have all shown that their primary concern is not the welfare of the child. They are not even prepared to listen to children before authorising, undertaking or endorsing these barbaric uplifts.”

Newsroom has reported extensively on these uplifts in the past.

These are often made when parenting orders have been breached, and police are enlisted to force children to visit a parent - even if they don’t wish to.

The grandmother said her daughter and the boy’s father had a short marriage where domestic violence featured, and he had issues with drugs and alcohol. For seven years, the father was only allowed time with his son under supervision (although much of this time he was overseas). In 2016, the parenting order changed to allow unsupervised fortnight weekend visits.

Background

After finding out about the Labour Weekend incident from the boy, his mother reported the event to the police.

“She [the mother] took a responsible course of action by reporting this incident to the police with an expectation that they would investigate this matter professionally, notifying the police that the next pick-up for weekend contact would be the 2nd November,” the grandmother said.

Breach one

When the father arrived at the school to pick up his son, the boy refused to go with him for the weekend visit. The boy allegedly said: “You could have killed me.” 

His father’s response was: “You can’t take a joke, can you?”

Because the boy wouldn’t go, the mother had now breached the parenting order. She then rang the police. She said police told her something had been done about the investigation but they couldn’t tell her more and suggested she contact the family court as they had made the existing parenting order.

The next day the mother went to the Auckland Central Police Station and was told the matter was now being dealt with police in another station close to where the father resides.

Frustrated that no “hold” had been put on visitations with the father until the bridge incident had been investigated independently by police, the mother applied for a Without Notice Protection Order. This order, against the father, if approve by the Family Court, would have stopped the father's weekend visits until the investigation into the bridge incident was complete. The mother presumed it would involve police taking a statement off their 12-year-old son.

In her affidavit, which accompanied the application for a protection order, she explained how her son did not feel safe with his father and feared what else he might do. 

Her application was denied by the judge: “While there is a domestic relationship and evidence that the respondent emotionally abused the child, there is insufficient evidence as to future risk and necessity to warrant without notice procedure.” 

The application and full affidavit of the mother, which outlined all the details the boy had told her, was sent to the father. At this point the police investigation into the complaint was still open.

“The situation here is you have a mother with a son who is in fear of his father, refusing to go to scheduled visits and the police are engaged to independently assess and investigate the incident. Meantime the father is now in full knowledge that the boy has complained to the school counsellor and his mother because the court documents have been sent to him, which makes the boy even more fearful and vulnerable,” said the grandmother.

Meantime, on November 9 this year, the mother received a letter from the father’s lawyer which said: “[The father] strongly denies the allegation that you have made that he placed [the boy] in danger at any stage, or that [the boy] is frightened of him."

It went on to point out the “various tools of remedy available to the court for non-compliance” and that it was an offence to contravene a parenting order.

The father maintained that the bridge incident was a device to interfere with the existing parenting order.

Breach two 

When the father arrived to pick up the boy from his school for the weekend visit on November16, the boy had left the school via a different exit. 

By now, nearly a month since the incident, and still having not heard from the police, the mother took the boy to the police station where she says she was told that arrangements were being made for a specialist to take his statement. The boy was given colouring pencils and police stickers.

However, three days later on November 22, the mother received a letter from the police dated (five days earlier) on November 14, saying police would be taking no further action.

The mother was told by the police that the father “turned himself in” and explained the incident was just a joke and had two witnesses to verify it. The file was closed without the boy’s version of events heard.

A timeline of events is included at the end of this article. It shows that despite repeated requests by the mother for information regarding the investigation, the police never questioned the boy. 

Uplift

Having missed two scheduled weekend visits, the father made an application through the courts for a warrant to uplift the boy without notice. 

It was granted by the Family Court. 

The result was police cars stationed at the school's exits; hundreds of children in the assembly hall were held back while the 12-year-old boy was taken out by the principal to his father. 

The grandmother points out the irony of family violence campaigns that encourage people to speak out about abuse. 

“Kids brave enough to stand up to their abusive parent deserve to be heard. It takes courage to do so, the police have proved they are prepared to turn up in full force [...at] the school grounds to make sure a 12-year-old boy is delivered to his father, but they are not prepared to listen to what he has to say.

“[The boy] did the right thing by confiding in his mother and his teacher that his father could have killed him by dangling him over a high bridge. His mother did the right thing by reporting this incident to the police and applying for a protection order to protect [the boy] while a police investigation was taking place.

“Instead, the Family Court flipped it around, the mother was threatened with arrest and being taken into custody if she intervened to protect her son. The Family Court is a place caring mothers fear with good reason.  

“The review of the Family Court can’t come fast enough.”

The police response

Auckland City Police family harm director Vaughn Graham said the file was closed on the bridge dangling incident because no criminal intent could be established.

According to Vaughn, the police spoke to the boy’s father and his current partner as well as the boy’s paternal grandfather, who were all present at the bridge during the incident before deciding to close the file.

When asked why the boy wasn’t questioned, he said: 

“Statements are not routinely taken from children, however when deemed appropriate based on the facts of each case, a specialist child interview can be conducted by specialists, this is usually reserved for cases involving serious abuse or neglect, or where the child is a witness to a serious case. The alleged behaviour between father and son did not require formal interview of the child. The account of the child had been reported through to police by the mother so it was considered that the child did not need to be spoken to further.”

He said it was unfortunate the mother may have been given the impression a statement would be taken by a specialist.

“It’s unfortunate if this was promised, there is no record of this through the documented police record of the incident. At various points, any reference to further interview is prefaced by the words ‘may’ or ‘if required’. This appears to follow our practice of not creating an unreasonable expectation of interview in all cases.”

System failings

University of Otago professor of law Mark Henaghan specialises in family law. He said the case sounds like a “classic case of lack of cross-over between police and the courts”.

“The thing that strikes me the most is the youth who is nearly 13 has not be spoken to. 

“Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which NZ has signed up to, there is an obligation on all agencies to hear the young person’s views on all matters that affect the young person and to take those views into account. This would have been likely to make a significant difference in this case.”

Henaghan said he believed the mother did the right thing applying for a protection order while the investigation was under way and the boy feared for his safety. 

He believes the public nature of the boy’s uplift in front of peers represents an invasion of privacy.

“The Family Court is private to protect the best interests of children. This kind of pickup makes a mockery of that important privacy and protection for children. The only justification for such action would be if there was an immediate threat of harm to the young person which isn’t the case here.”

Timeline of events

2009 – A parenting order places the boy in the day-to-day care of his mother. The father is granted supervised contact only.

2016 – The parenting order is varied to allow unsupervised contact with the father.

October, 20 2018 – The boy is dangled over a bridge by his father.

October 23, 2018 – The boy tells his mother and his school teacher. The school counsellor is notified.

October 24, 2018 – The mother reports the incident to the Auckland Central Police Station.

October 26, 2018 – The mother emails the father saying she would not allow the weekend visit of November 2 go ahead. When he asks why, she emails him a photograph of the bridge.

October 29, 2018 – It's understood the father visited police on his own accord, claiming the incident was a joke.

November 2, 2018 – The boy refuses to go with his father for a weekend visit, saying “you could have killed me”. The mother rings the police who say something is being done, but they cannot tell her more.

November 3, 2018 – Mother visits Auckland Central Police Station again and is told the matter is being dealt with by police down country.

November 5, 2018 – The mother applies for a Without Notice Protection Order to stop visits with the father while the incident is being investigated by the police.

November 7, 2018 – The Family Court says threshold isn't met for a Without Notice Protection Order and serves the application on the father.

November 9, 2018 – The mother receives letter from father’s lawyer.

November 16, 2018 – The father shows up at the school to collect his son. The boy leaves through a different exit.

November 19, 2018 – Mother and son go to the police station. No statement is taken. The mother says she was told arrangements are being made for a specialist to take the boy’s statement. 

November 22, 2018 – Mother receives a letter from the police dated November 14 saying police would take no further action.

November 28, 2018 – Father applies for Without Notice order to enforce parenting order and it's approved by the Family Court.

November 30, 2018 – Police go to the school with the warrant to ensure the boy goes with his father for the weekend.

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