Survivor of abuse in state care believes his abuser had offended before

By Edward Gay
September 21, 2020

Keith Wiffin is a victim of abuse in state care and has given evidence at the Royal Commission of Inquiry about his efforts to get redress.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care.

The Royal Commission will hear from survivors about their struggles to get redress from the Crown.

A survivor of child abuse in state care says he believes a housemaster who abused him was allowed to “quietly slip away” and reoffend.

Survivors are giving evidence to the Royal Commission of inquiry into abuse in care about their struggles to get redress.

Keith Wiffin was made a ward of the state at the age of 11, following the death of his father.

“My mother signed the document thinking that I’d be cared and nurtured for. The complete opposite happened,” he told the commission in Auckland on Monday.

As well as violence, Wiffin said he was subjected to sexual abuse by one of the housemasters, Alan Moncrief-Wright, who he said was responsible for similar offending at a Hamilton institution.

Moncrief-Wright was eventually jailed on multiple charges of sexual assault and is now dead.

“It’s my belief he was allowed to quietly slip away and reoffend because of the reckless and negligent conduct of the administration at the time.”

He hoped the commission would look into this.

“There’s a perception out there that this is only a thing that occurs in the Catholic Church in far off lands. It’s not the case. It’s happened here.”

Wiffin told the Commission the violence began in the back of the van on his way to Epuni Boys Home.

The violence continued with regular fights, sometimes overseen by the staff.

On some occasions Wiffin required hospital attention with broken bones requiring attention.

He said Moncrief-Wright abused him on a number of occasions. “I didn’t tell anyone about it at the time because I was terrified of (him).”

After seven and a half months, Wiffin was moved to a family home where the violence continued, which he said had a devastating effect. “The impact has continued through my life. I dealt with things in different ways. At times alcohol abuse was a problem.”

He also suffered from depression and nightmares.

Wiffin said he was in denial but eventually approached human rights lawyer Sonja Cooper to bring a case.

Preparations for the case were stressful, and Wiffin eventually met with the Crown with a view to settlement.

Wiffin said the Crown sent him a letter telling him he would face “considerable hurdles” in his legal case.

“This was protecting and defending one of New Zealand’s worst child abusers.”

Wiffin eventually took part in a police prosecution against Moncrief-Wright, who he says pleaded guilty and was jailed in 2011.

Wiffin was eventually sent an apology letter and a $20,000 cheque.

The apology lessened his rage but Wiffin compared it to taking two panadol for a migraine – “it took the edge off it”.

He said the boys’ home had had a lasting effect. Another boy who was abused once had dreams of being an army captain but ended up a gang member with a criminal history running 13 pages long.

”A short stay at Epuni boys home turned out to be a life sentence... It’s had a massive impact on this nation. They got it so very wrong in the first place and now we’re reaping what they’ve sown.”

He said the courts were not the appropriate mechanism to deal with redress and instead an independent claims process was needed.

Earlier, the Commission heard from the mother of a deaf man who was beaten at a school for deaf children.

Cheryl Munro said her son James Packer was punched and smacked as a boy for using sign language at Kelston School for the Deaf in the 1980s.

Munro read parts of her son’s affidavit to the Royal Commission into the Abuse of State Care on Monday.

In his statement, Packer said he suffered repeated physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a teacher.

He said he was smacked in the head and punched in the stomach.

Packer also saw the teacher break the arm of a friend of his. “This was very upsetting to me and distressing.”

Despite a complaint from Packer’s mother, nothing was done and the violence continued.

“I felt powerless and it was difficult to communicate what was happening because I was so afraid.”

Later he sought redress from the Crown for the abuse he had suffered and took legal action.

The Ministry of Education said they had no records of the teacher abusing students before 1990 but Munro told the commission that didn’t mean it didn’t happen.

She noted the ministry also had no record of her complaint.

However, the ministry’s records did show the unnamed teacher was later disciplined by the school and required to attend a refresher course after further complaints were raised.

Munro said the teacher was allowed to continue to teach.

“It was completely disheartening. We weren’t believed … It’s very difficult to know where to go. We had issues trying to get redress. There was nowhere to go.”

The lawyer assisting the commission, Hanne Janes, asked what they wanted as a result of their complaint.

“Just that he be believed and they would listen and believe the other children… They just didn’t have a voice.”

She said police investigated the teacher in 2014 but did not proceed with a prosecution because of the historic nature.

The legal action took five years and ended with a settlement but Packer described it as “an exercise in futility”.

After five years, Packer received an apology and a settlement of $10,000.

Janes asked Munro what that experience had been like.

“It’s hard to describe. It’s just debilitating. You just feel so alone, there’s no one to help you.”

She was shocked to later learn that the “sadistic” teacher was still teaching vulnerable children.

Later, at age 21, Packer was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. He said in his statement that he was made a patient of Sunnyside Psychiatric Hospital.

“During this time I was heavily medicated with a cocktail of antipsychotic drugs which left me crawling on the floor, unable to walk.”

It took two years before he was diagnosed correctly with Aspergers by an international expert from Australia.

He said Sunnyside staff refused to recognise the diagnosis.

He was also physically assaulted by staff.

Munro said the effects on her son were still apparent.

There was another settlement and apology.

“Trying to get recognition should never be this hard,” Munro said.

She said her family lived on “the breadline” supporting Packer.

Asked how her son was, Munro said he still had side effects from the medication.

“He still puts clothes against the door to stop the brutal teacher coming in to attack him. He still has nightmares. He’s nearly 50 years old.”

She encouraged the commission to continue its work.

“It is going to change lives.”



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