WELLINGTON (NEW ZEALAND)
Stuff [Wellington, New Zealand]
July 25, 2021
By Deborah Morris
Tamzin Ford wanted for years to share her story about the abuse she suffered at the hands of a man who was supposed to be her carer. Deborah Morris reports.
It was the day Maurice Dagger made a filthy suggestion to her that Tamzin Ford knew she needed to do something.
She had just got home from school, and Dagger was sitting in a chair in the lounge.
The young teenager hated being alone with him and did her best to avoid it. He used to come into her bedroom at night and rub her back, enter the bathroom while she was showering, hold the door to the rumpus room closed to press her up against the door frame and kiss her.
This time he asked to put his hand in her pants and stroke her.
After 18 months of being ‘sexually terrified’ as a young teen, Ford needed out. She barricaded herself in her room and the next day told her school counsellor.
Tamzin has wanted to tell her story for years. It is only now, after a district court judge agreed to remove the suppression granted to all sexual abuse victims, that she is able to.
She was born in Nelson in 1976, a happy, energetic and outgoing child. Church was a big part of the social life of her family.
Her mother, Carol Best, married a priest she met at the Nativity Church in Blenheim in 1987. They had a huge wedding in 1988 and Tamzin was bridesmaid.
The new family, including her brother Levi, moved to Wellington in 1989.
Best said her husband had been offered two parishes, one in Nelson and St Michael’s in Newlands. He wanted to go to Wellington so the family moved.
[St Michael’s Anglican Church in Newlands, Wellington, where Tamzin and her family met Maurice Dagger.]
But the marriage broke down after eight months, and he left. “He left without a word and I never heard from him again,” Best says.
The family had been living in church accommodation, and she was told she had to return to Blenheim.
The assistant bishop of the Wellington Anglican Diocese told her the church did not want her there.
“I was told to keep quiet, that I could not discuss my marriage breakup. I was very traumatised and confused. I did not know what I had done wrong and my life fell to pieces.”
So the family was packed off back to Blenheim.
It may have been 30 years ago, but Best said the feeling of her family being dirt under the shoes of the diocese has never left her.
Back at Blenheim, she was called a wicked woman and a marriage wrecker without being able to explain herself.
Meanwhile, Tamzin wanted to stay. She loved Wellington and Newlands College, so they agreed when another church member, Maurice Dagger and his wife, said they would host her. Dagger was a layperson with St Michael’s at the time, a school teacher and bus driver.
It was the start of 18 months of hell for the then 14-year-old girl.
Tamzin remembers not liking Dagger much. It was his eyes. “I never felt completely comfortable with him. I had no reason to distrust him, but I didn’t get good vibes from him.”
It took three or four months for Dagger to start his advances. After a kayaking lesson he told her she did not have time to change back into clothes and drove her home wearing her togs and a towel.
“He spent the whole time perving at me.”
He would let her go into the garage to smoke with him and have inappropriate conversations.
One of those conversations was about how he liked to pick up the ‘’special girls’’, Tamzin says, on the bus, as they would sit in the middle of the back seat and put on a wee show for him, so he could watch in the rearview mirror.
Over time his behaviour escalated, to touching and kissing, while Tamzin did her best to hide from him. She would jam towels and clothes under the bathroom and bedroom doors to prevent him entering.
She hated the sound of footsteps in the hall and dreaded Dagger’s wife going out; she knew he would be looking for her.
The day he asked if he could stick his hands down her pants, Tamzin knew it would be only a matter of time until he did worse. She said no and barricaded herself in her room all night.
The next day she told her school counsellor.
She was immediately removed from the house and put into a foster home who told her she should not to go to the police as they would make her feel like a slut.
Tamzin said it made her feel fearful. The home had weird, strict rules that made her feel like the problem. “I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I was the one ripped out of my home.”
Eventually she was moved to another foster home, but by that time her life was going sideways.
“I was drinking, doing drugs, hanging out with gangs. I had lost any self-esteem and thought ‘why should I give a s… about myself when no-one else did.’”
She was running away regularly, sometimes sleeping in shop doorways with a boyfriend. “I self-destructed for about nine years.”
It was the birth of her son that turned that all around.
She said it was a turning point to clean up her act, so she could be a responsible mother. It took her three years.
Former teacher and Anglican priest Maurice Dagger in the dock when he was sentenced at Porirua District Court.
Dagger was finally charged in 2020 and pleaded guilty to one charge of indecent assault on multiple occasions over 18 months between 1990 and 1991 and sentenced to five months community detention and to pay $3000 in reparation.
It was a week after his sentencing in the district court in June that Tamzin received a letter from the Wellington Anglican Diocese apologising.
It was, for her, years late in coming.
The diocese had been aware since 1991 what had happened. Indeed, an assistant bishop attended a family group conference with CYFs that year that included Tamzin and her mother.
The summary of the meeting states “Daggar (sic) had been making regular suggestions that he have sexual relations with her.”
Dagger had also acknowledged being inappropriate, having counselling with his wife through the church.
Tamzin said she was made to look like the problem. “At this meeting they made me look like I was an out-of-control, uncontrollable child that needed to be sent away.”
There was no discussion about the abuse she had suffered.
Looking back now, Tamzin said it looks like a cover-up.
Best asked if the police were involved and was told the church would take care of it, but no-one did. Tamzin never got to make a statement, was never provided with legal advice or even a medical examination.
[The Wellington Anglican Diocese knew of the allegations against Dagger in 1991.]
Despite all of it, Dagger was being ordained as a priest in 1995.
Tamzin made a formal letter of complaint to the Wellington Anglican Diocese in December 2019, but other than a phonecall she heard nothing for months. So she went to the police.
Only then was she assigned a support person from the diocese. Until her mother discovered they had been a Facebook friend of Dagger and had worked with him.
At the time Dagger was at St Andrew’s in Plimmerton.
Tamzin rang the vicar to ask if he was aware of the allegations and the police investigation, but he had not been told anything.
She was also told no records of his counselling existed.
A letter from the diocese said they did not suspend Dagger’s licence during the investigation because the bishop took into account Dagger had done the counselling and they had never received another complaint.
“My complaint was obviously not good enough – the bishop formed the view that a suspension at the beginning point of the complaint and investigation process was neither necessary nor justified as his continued ministry did not present a risk of harm to others.”
She said she felt like the church put themselves first and that her complaint lacked substance – until his sentencing when his offending was revealed.
It took nearly a year from when she complained in 2019 before he was stood down.
“Within which time he was able to marry people, bury people, baptise people, support people in his community, and had access to young girls.”
In the letter Tamzin received from the Bishop of Wellington, the right Reverend Justin Duckworth, he confirms the church knew but that the bishop who ordained Dagger was partly informed of the fact there was no formal action taken and the counsellor who had seen Dagger also gave a reference for ordination.
“I can not go back in time and substitute my judgment in place of those at the time who made the decision to ordain Mr Dagger. However, I can state to you unequivocally that were a candidate for ordination to come forward now with the same history I would not agree to ordain him,” Duckworth wrote.
“I fully accept your criticism of the delays in our process and our failures in the ways we have communicated with you.”
But for Tamzin, the letter is too little, too late. She feels like it blames others and minimises the diocese’s role.
The repercussions are very much still with her.
Her powerful victim impact statement to the court said that, at 44, she still showered at night with the lights off.
“I have bitterness and anger nearly every day. I hate all those people that should have, and could have, helped protect me from your abuse, but didn’t.
“While you stand on a pedestal within your diocese, community, family and friends I have been battling my demons.”
During evidence given at the Abuse in Care Royal Commission, Anglican bishops for several dioceses acknowledged the church had not done well enough, including files going missing and a serious lack of training in how to handle complaints.
Tamzin Ford’s statement is before the commission.