She was 27 years old. Her Australian-born daughter was only two. They had already suffered much, but at the hands of a New Zealand Judge, a lawyer and an alleged paedophile and drug dealer, they were about to suffer a whole lot more. IAN WISHART has the incredible story of Sharon and Teena, and their fight to survive…
Rotorua is a great little town. A friendly tourist trap with its mud pools and geysers. But it has its secrets as well. Deep, dark secrets. As anyone who was close to a television set earlier this year will recall, the biggest police scandal in New Zealand’s history blew up in sleepy Rotorua of all places, involving allegations of sexual orgies, gang rape, cover-ups and corruption. Allegations so serious that the Government has called a Commission of Inquiry into the claims of several Rotorua women, including Louise Nicholas.
Investigate can throw another similar case into the ring – that of senior Rotorua police officer Evan Jordan (now deceased), whose previous claim to fame came from cheating death in a Zimbabwean air crash in 1990 and selling his video footage of the crash-landing to TV3 and the Readers Digest. What neither media organization realised at the time was that Jordan was a corrupt cop who had a habit of arresting attractive young women on various misdemeanor charges in Rotorua then arranging to drop the prosecutions in exchange for sexual favours. Although eventually prosecuted for rape in Rotorua in the mid nineties, he got off.
Indeed, the allegations that have surfaced this year about Rotorua raise questions about just how far back and how deep the corruption in that city’s law enforcement and justice systems goes. Might it, for example, go all the way back to Christmas, 1976, and the disappearance of Wellington mother of two Heidi Charles, holidaying in Rotorua with her family? Dropped off for a spot of Christmas shopping in the morning, the attractive young blonde never returned to her two boys or her husband. No trace of her was ever discovered. Rotorua police never upgraded her disappearance to homicide, nor did police searches find anything.
The question after all this time might better be phrased, “How hard did they really look?”
And it is the same question that surfaces unanswered in this investigation.
The story that follows contains material that is sometimes graphic. When it is, it is simply because it is relevant to the investigation and needs to be included. What follows is the result of hours of interviews with some of those involved. We now make it clear, for the sake of legal clarity, that this story is not about whether the child at the centre of it all was sexually abused by her father. You will read evidence indicating that this could be the case, but the point was never proven in Court.
And that’s actually what this story is about: did the Family Court and CYF systems fail the child by failing to properly investigate the sexual abuse allegations? In other words, we are not attempting to prove here that sexual abuse definitely took place. We are attempting to show that serious allegations of abuse were not properly investigated, in our view, and ignored by those with the statutory responsibility for protecting the child.
What we don’t understand is why:
When Sharon (all names of family members in this story have been changed), met Michael in Brisbane in July 1989, it seemed at first blush to be a match made in heaven. Both were 24-years-old: she, a vivacious young New Zealander looking to experience the world; he, a dashing Middle Easterner who was trying to forge a new life for himself in Australia after spending two years on secondment to a combat unit in a war-ravaged country. It was a whirlwind romance – the pair married in Brisbane eight weeks later, and Sharon was pregnant with baby Teena soon after.
But according to Sharon, the romantic whirlwind became a hurricane of horror during the pregnancy. Michael’s application for refugee status in Australia had been turned down, and increasingly she felt he was using her as a meal ticket.
“His whole attitude toward me changed, it was like he saw me as property, something he owned rather than someone he loved. By getting married to a Kiwi, he could get a New Zealand passport which meant he could live in Australia and travel internationally without a barrage of questions at every airport.”
Sharon and Michael were living in Australia with Michael’s mother, and she claims he was often violent toward her, becoming passionately angry and frequently threatening her with kitchen knives.
“He would hide behind doors with a knife, wait for me to come through and then leap out and hold the blade to my throat. It terrified me and he seemed to enjoy it.
“His mother just stood there, screaming hysterically at him, but it made no difference. He’d broken her arm once when they lived in London. He was bashing his girlfriend and his mother intervened to try and stop it, and he broke her arm. Michael was very, very violent, and had a Middle Eastern view on male dominance.”
One story Michael told to a number of people is how his father had shot dead one of his sons – Michael’s brother – one night when Michael was eight, because the younger boy, a six year old, was making too much noise. Whether the story is true or not is beyond our ability to prove. However, others remember Michael telling them.
Michael also seemed to be well-acquainted with violence outside the home: during a trip to Sydney soon after their marriage, Sharon says Michael was approached by men with organized crime connections wanting him to carry out a “hit” for $8,000. Sharon says she talked him out of doing the crime, and claims he gloated when a TV news story they were watching one evening showed the Vietnamese man hired to carry out the murder got caught.
“Michael was full of bravado, boasting about how if he’d done it he would have gotten away without being seen,” recalls Sharon.
While the story may seem far-fetched, Michael admitted being approached by the Mafia to the Family Court in New Zealand.
So what other bad habits did this former Middle Eastern gunman have? According to Sharon, he routinely slept with a knife under his pillow. Normal behaviour perhaps in a war zone – but not in Australia or New Zealand.
The colourful and violent background of Michael is only an entrée to this story however, which takes on a life of its own in mid-1992 while the young family was living in New Zealand.
For nearly a year, Michael, Sharon and baby Teena had been living with Sharon’s mother in Rotorua. Sharon’s mother had seen first-hand some of Michael’s behaviour, and had herself challenged him about the knife he kept close by. By March 1992, relations between the couple had become so tense that Sharon was “withholding sexual favours” – a freeze that was to become permanent. In June that year, Michael agreed to let his wife take Teena back to Australia so she could find work there and help pay off some of the family’s mounting debt. Sharon didn’t tell Michael she was planning to leave him at this point, but she maintains her husband was living life as if he was single anyway.
Too much Middle Eastern machismo and a liking for wild oats, she claimed.
By all accounts, and this would later become relevant as you’ll see, Michael had an exceedingly high sex drive, desiring sex several times a day and, again, becoming violent and moody if he didn’t get it. Then again, the moodiness could have been caused by the Middle Easterner’s long-standing cannabis habit – a habit that did nothing to ease the couple’s financial strains.
It was while she was working in Sydney that Sharon plotted her escape, but her plans hit a snag in August 1992 when she fell ill and was told she would need to be hospitalized. Sharon made a decision to make a same-day return flight to New Zealand and drop Teena into her mother’s care so she could return to Sydney for treatment without having to worry about childcare for her daughter. While Teena was in her grandmother’s care, Michael had what family would later describe as “liberal” access to his daughter.
Speaking now, twelve years after it happened, the events that followed remain a raw wound for Sharon. It is a rambling interview: so much to tell, so little time, if one can call a couple of weeks just a “little time”. But she’s right – trying to concertina years of trauma, enough to fill 10 Eastlight files of documents – into two weeks’ worth of interviews is traumatic in and of itself.
Sharon has nothing to gain from this. Her case in the Family Court ended years ago. She ultimately got the justice she was seeking. However, the story of what happened to Teena and Sharon, and the way they were treated by the judicial and child protection systems in Rotorua/Bay of Plenty raises such serious matters of public interest that Sharon feels compelled to lift the lid on it publicly for the first time.
November 1, 1992, was a Sunday. And as the Boeing 747 lined up for its final approach to Auckland’s Jean Batten Airport, Sharon could already feel the knots rising in her stomach – and they had nothing to do with the impending touchdown. Sharon had come to pick up her daughter, tell her husband their marriage was over, and return to Australia. Michael, however, already knew this. He’d sought an ex-parté court hearing to grant himself interim custody of Teena, and to prevent his estranged wife from taking the girl with her. Teena was less than two and a half years old at this point.
The first Sharon knew of the secret court hearing was when she was slapped with a court order on Monday November 2, telling her Australian-born Teena was to remain in New Zealand. The Court had also declared that Teena should remain in the custody of Sharon’s mother, whom she’d been staying with.
Mother and daughter had two short weeks together before Sharon returned to her job in Sydney mid-November, hoping to save up enough to provide for her daughter when she was next scheduled to return in February 1993. Sharon was hoping the custody issue would have been decided by then.
Unbeknownst to Sharon, however, the situation was about to take a sinister turn.
On Friday December 4, 1992, Michael had picked up Teena from her grandmother for a three hour access visit. The child returned off-colour, not settling until close to midnight. By morning, she was suffering an extreme bout of diarrhea.
Saturday 5 December: Teena is taken for another three hour session by her father. Soon after her return, Sharon’s mother notices Teena had what she thought were wet pants. On taking them off, she discovered a sticky substance that appeared to be semen, “stretching all the way from the back of the crutch up to the rear waistband.”
Sickened, and feeling her stomach churn, she rang her two sons to seek a second opinion. Their verdict on seeing the substance in the underpants: “It’s definitely semen, Mum. You have to take Teena to see a doctor, straight away.”
Placing the stained underpants in a plastic bag, Sharon’s mother and one of her sons drove the child to the local A&E clinic which, being a Saturday night, was full. When they eventually got in to see him, the doctor performed what will later be described as a “cursory” vaginal examination before saying, “No sign of vaginal trauma,” and telling them the discharge is probably related to the diarrhea.
“Take a look at the underpants, I’ve got them here,” volunteered the grandmother.
“No, that won’t be necessary,” the doctor twice indicated with a dismissive wave of his hand. He performed no rectal examination of baby Teena.
Unsatisfied, but lacking the hard evidence that she presumed the doctor’s visit would provide, the grandmother could only fire a warning shot across Michael’s bows when he returned on Sunday afternoon to pick up Teena for another visit. She told him she wasn’t happy at what she’d discovered in Teena’s pants, and that he’d better keep the child safe. Michael said nothing, but when he returned at 7pm the next evening he was secretly wearing a tape recorder. It was Monday, December 7.
The grandmother, meanwhile, rang her lawyer to seek advice. She told her to get in contact with the man who had the statutory responsibility of protecting Teena – lawyer John Chadwick, who’d been appointed Counsel for the Child (CFC) in the legal proceedings begun back in November. It is routine in Family Court cases for an independent lawyer to be appointed to represent the child’s interests. John Chadwick, a colourful local Rotorua barrister, is the husband of Labour MP Steve (Stephanie) Chadwick, the Chairwoman of Parliament’s Health Select Committee. Both have been active in Labour Party affairs, and were instrumental in setting up Rotorua’s first Women’s Refuge in 1996.
“Counsel for the Child will look after Teena,” the grandmother’s lawyer reassured. “He’ll instantly stop access while this is investigated. You need to bring this to his attention.”
Sharon’s mother arranged to see John Chadwick the next morning, but events were quickly turning to custard. When Michael turned up on Monday evening, Sharon’s brother Toby couldn’t hold back his anger and began punching Michael. As the police transcript would later reveal, it was a brutal encounter.
“I didn’t enter the house,” Michael told police. “Toby, my brother-in-law, came to the door. Toby snatched Teena off me; I put my head inside the house and said to my mother-in-law, “I’ll pick her up tomorrow”. Toby stepped outside the house and said to me, ‘You’ll be f***en lucky’.
“I replied, ‘What do you mean?’ Toby answered, ‘What did I see in her f***en pants the other day, mate? What did I see in Teena’s pants the other day? I saw something that only big boys f***en excrete, mate!’
“While he was saying this he was standing over me trying to intimidate me. I had no idea what he was talking about….then Toby punched me in the right hand side of my chest and said, ‘You should f*** off back to where you came from, boy, before I cut your f***en throat. I know what you’ve been doing.’
“I started walking backwards towards my car. Toby followed me and said, ‘I know what you’ve been f***en doing boy, if you get away with it I’m going to come back and f***en hammer you alright’. That’s when he punched me again, hitting me on the right shoulder this time.
“I got into my car and as I was getting into the driver’s seat he leaned in and shoved me so hard that I ended up on the other side of the car.”
Michael fled, but returned the next morning, Tuesday 8th, for his scheduled full day of access, and uplifted Teena.
It is here that Investigate makes the first serious allegation. On the basis of the evidence our magazine has uncovered, we believe John Chadwick, Counsel for the Child, not only failed to act in the best interests of baby Teena but deliberately acted in a way that was at least reckless and at worst may have been seriously harmful to her safety. We believe Chadwick neglected his duty not only as CFC, but as a lawyer and a human being. We believe Chadwick should immediately be suspended from acting as Counsel for Child in any other case, if not suspended from practice entirely, pending a full investigation of his behaviour in this one.
And here’s why we believe all this:
Unbeknownst to the grandmother, Michael hot-footed it first to his own lawyer, Jan Walker, with the tape recording of his mugging and the claims of sexual abuse being made by Toby during the assault.
Jan Walker is one half of the Rotorua lawfirm of Walker & Elliott. The New Zealand Law Society’s website notes that Jan Walker is exceptionally “well-connected to the current Government”, which is why the NZLS co-opted Walker to one of its main committees. Walker is indeed “well-connected”. This otherwise obscure Rotorua lawyer from a tiny legal practice was appointed Chairwoman of the Government’s Casino Control Authority. Nor is Walker’s partner any slouch. Claudia Elliott is “a staunch Labour Party activist” according to one source, “and a radical feminist”. Indeed, the lawfirm of Walker and Elliott has been truly blessed by the reigning sisterhood in the Beehive. Not only did Walker get a taxpayer-funded position, so did Elliott, as President of the Film and Literature Review Board, whose task it is to make censorship decisions. Investigate understands both lawyers are lesbian, and also staunch left wingers. This may seem irrelevant to a child protection case – and normally it would be – but for Sharon and Teena, it represents an important subtext. For while the husband was being represented by a very well-connected, liberal, Labour party lawfirm, and Counsel for the Child was himself “a staunch Labour party activist” and liberal, the wife was a Pentecostal Christian. And in a case where parents and their attitudes are examined in minute detail, it would only be a matter of time before the worldviews of these polar opposites collided.
Walker and Elliott recommended Michael see John Chadwick immediately. So by the time Sharon’s mother rang to allege sexual abuse on Tuesday 8th, John Chadwick was already primed.
“There’s no way Michael has to tolerate that sort of abuse from your family, and I want you to know the police have now been called and are out looking for your son,” he ranted.
“I’ve told Michael to disregard the Court order requiring Teena to remain in your care. I think it is better for Teena that she lives with her father, and I’ve told him not to return Teena to you.”
Sharon’s mother was flabbergasted. Here was the lawyer, appointed by the Family Court to protect her granddaughter, pointedly ignoring the references to sexual abuse and semen stains on the tape that Michael had played to him – in her view not even bothering to seriously investigate them or even pause for half a minute to consider them. Nor was he prepared to listen to the grandmother’s allegations.
“I’ve told Michael to take Teena to a doctor himself,” Chadwick said.
New Zealand’s child protection guidelines are adamant that the safety of the child is paramount in cases where sexual abuse is alleged. In all such cases, CYF investigators and the Court are required to take protective action first and sort out the truth of the claims second. It is hard to see how, after hearing that semen had allegedly been discovered in a child’s underpants, the Court-appointed Counsel for the Child could take the almost unprecedented step of actually removing the child from safe care – the grandmother – and placing her with the man who allegedly abused her. And this before any investigation had been carried out!
To further illustrate just how irregular this was, consider this: under the existing Court order dating back to early November, baby Teena was required by order of the Court to reside with her grandmother. Had Chadwick approached the Court to alter this order? No. Not yet.
It is even more unbelievable that Chadwick would allow the alleged sexual abuse perpetrator to control when and how a medical examination for sexual abuse was conducted. After all, leaving aside the issue of whether abuse actually took place, clearly the evidence could be tainted if an abuser was able to remove critical evidence by bathing. How could Chadwick control that? Obviously he couldn’t, and if he didn’t realise that, he’s incompetent. And if he did realise it was a risk then his actions run close, in Investigate’s opinion, to attempting to pervert the course of justice.
With the doctor not wanting to examine the underpants, and Counsel for the Child clearly not sympathetic, the grandmother made a decision she now regrets. She put the pants in the laundry.
Michael, meanwhile, had raced in to see CYF and tell his side of the story, as Chadwick had advised him to do.
It was after this, with events clearly escalating, that the grandmother finally called Sharon in Australia and told her of the sexual abuse. “You’d better come home straight away.” Why did she wait four days before telling her daughter? Sharon’s mother thought she could handle it herself, but John Chadwick’s stunning decision to change the Court order without authority left the grandmother with no choice but to advise Sharon, who promptly rang Chadwick from Sydney.
“The abuse allegations are rubbish!” Chadwick retorted. “Your husband is not a child molester.”
A frenzied Sharon naturally wanted to know what the lawyer and Labour Party activist was doing to investigate whether or not her daughter had, in fact, been abused. According to Sharon, Chadwick was evasive and vague, saying he’d referred the issue to CYF.
Documents contained in a massive complaint to the Law Society about Chadwick contain the full sequence of events.
It is clear that Chadwick had well and truly been placed on notice about semen in the underpants and the sexual abuse allegations by December 8. He made his decision to grant effective custody in favour of the alleged sexual abuser in full knowledge that sexual abuse allegations had just been made because he’d listened to the tape Michael had provided.
Despite the specific claims of seminal fluid being present, however, here is what Chadwick puts on the record for his file note to the Family Court on December 9 explaining why he had unilaterally altered the Court order in regard to custody:
“Last week the child was returned to the grandmother by the father after access. The child had a tummy complaint, had been wetting her pants and appeared to have diarrhea. Upon inspection the grandmother noticed a whitish substance in the underpants of the child, became suspicious about it, took the child to a doctor who made an examination and did not report anything back to worry about.”
The astute reader will notice that “seminal fluid” described by eyewitnesses was instead referred to here by Chadwick as a “whitish substance” in the context of diarrhea. And what about the visit to a Doctor by the father to have the child medically examined?
“As to the examination of the child I have consulted with a host of experts. Because of the uncertainty of the allegation it was deemed that the child should not be put through what might become a succession of medical examinations (thus compounding the trauma to the child) and instead the matter should be dealt with by way of the Care and Protection Unit as DSW which would proceed by way of a Social Worker being assigned to gather statements from the parties, such information being assessed and then a decision would be made as to whether a diagnostic interview would follow, and/or a medical examination.”
In other words, suddenly, there was to be no medical examination at all. No forensic test to see whether two and a half year old Teena had indeed been raped. Surely an experienced and independent family court lawyer would know the importance of forensic evidence in sexual abuse cases?
“The air needs to be cleared regarding the allegation and that is now being attended to,” Chadwick wrote in his backside-covering file note. “In arriving at that decision I have spoken to Dr McMenamin, Dr J Morreau, Maria Oliver (Manager of the Child Abuse Unit at Rotorua Hospital), Sue Henderson (Psychologist at DSW) and Kaye Fordham (head of the Unit at DSW)…the family are ganging up on the father and will resort to anything,” he added as a throwaway line.
It was, Sharon now claims, a set-up. When she told Chadwick she was heading back to New Zealand immediately, the lawyer took a new tack after hanging up the phone.
“This matter has degenerated, requiring Counsel for the Child to take action at short notice,” he diarised to the Court. “Essentially what I have done is sanctioned the removal of the child from the home of the grandmother into the day-to-day care of the Applicant father as of 8 December [the previous day].
“My immediate concern now is when the mother of the child returns on Saturday…I can already foresee the potential for a tug-of-war in which she is liable to retain the child and refuse to return her to the father.
“It is for that reason that I seek an urgent amendment to the present Interim Custody Order to provide that the child reside with the Applicant father until further Order of the Court.
In my view such an amendment to the Order is in the interests and welfare of the child.”
Meanwhile, Sharon’s lawyers at Rotorua firm Dennet Olphert Sandford & Dowthwaite were furiously faxing all and sundry to find out why the existing Court Order was not being followed.
“Included in these proceedings is reference to the grandmother’s and Sharon’s extreme concern over the possibility that the child has been the subject of sexual abuse while in the care of the father…our client urgently requires all steps taken to protect the child from any possible position of danger until the fears of the grandmother in particular as a result of her observations are investigated by appropriate medical professionals. We do not consider that it is at all acceptable or appropriate for Michael to accompany or refer the child for investigation in respect of this complaint…In disobeying the Court Order we take the view that Michael is in contempt of Court.”
Chadwick soon responded.
“I have your letter of 9/12/92…I confirm that I am Counsel for the Child. You should understand that Michael is not in breach of the Court Order. He retained the child on my advice and if anyone is in breach it is perhaps me. However, that is my cross to bear. In the circumstances, I made the decision and I have already filed a full report to the Court on why.
“The grandmother has not made an allegation of sexual abuse against the father. She has had the opportunity to do that to me at least three times in the last 48 hours. At best she has a suspicion. That does not seem to have prevented your client [Sharon] from telephoning me from Sydney to make an allegation. Neither has it prevented your client’s brother Toby from making a blatant allegation and assaulting the father in the process and then telephoning me twice at home to justify his actions which are now a police matter.”
Who, exactly, was Counsel for the Child John Chadwick acting for in this dispute? Teena? Or her father? And Chadwick was clearly being disingenuous in claiming that the grandmother had not made an allegation of sexual abuse. After all, his own report to the Court on December 9 made it clear that sexual abuse was the card on the table:
“Upon returning the child he was confronted by Toby…threatened, assaulted and accused of sexually abusing his daughter…outraged at the allegation of sexual abuse.”
Toby, like the grandmother, was a primary witness to the same evidence that grandmother had seen. Toby was the one who actually confirmed his mother’s suspicions when he told her the substance in the underpants was definitely seminal fluid. Toby’s allegations of sexual abuse were as first-hand as the one Chadwick claimed he lacked from the grandmother to this point. His denial in the letter to Sharon’s lawyers appears to be nothing more than game-playing – a misleading diversion.
In the complaint to the Law Society about Chadwick is an affidavit sworn by Sharon’s mother on December 9. The affidavit details the events of the preceding four days, describes clearly the discovery of semen, the fears of sexual abuse, and Chadwick’s unilateral action to give the child directly to the father regardless. That affidavit was served on Chadwick by Sharon’s lawyers, just to make it abundantly clear: the grandmother feared sexual abuse by the father and had found evidence of it.
Meanwhile the war of the faxes continued. On December 11, Chadwick wrote to Sharon’s lawyers: “There are times when Counsel for the Child has to act decisively. I am comfortable with my decision. I am not going to reverse my decision.”
Chadwick again added that he had “discussed the matter with Sue Henderson and Kay Fordham [at the Social Welfare Department’s CYF unit] who agreed to deal with the matter forthwith and they will be reporting to me. Michael has already been interviewed and while the grandmother is still to be interviewed [our emphasis] I am confident that the suspicion or allegation against Michael has no basis.”
Again, another stunning admission from John Chadwick, Counsel for the Child. Before CYF staff had even interviewed any of the primary witnesses to the semen, Chadwick said the allegation had “no basis”. Little wonder the Sharon and the grandmother came to believe very early on in that they were being jumped all over by a kangaroo court. And don’t forget, John Chadwick is a prominent Labour Party activist, married to a prominent Labour MP whose parliamentary webpage talks of her track record in protecting women and children; the political connections in this case are fascinating.
Sharon’s lawyers hit back. “We do not accept that Counsel for the Child has authority to permit breach of Court orders.”
Chadwick’s next step was intriguing. That same day, Friday December 11, he filed an ex parté application to the Family Court to ratify the action he’d already taken in breaking the Court Order, requesting a new directive: “Until further Order of the Court the child is to reside with the applicant father Michael.” Remember that the mother, Sharon, was arriving in the country the following day.
Nowhere in Chadwick’s six-paragraph application was reference made anywhere to the claims of sexual abuse. Nowhere. John Chadwick is an intelligent man. Presumably his decision to omit any reference to the alleged semen-stained underwear and sexual abuse was deliberate, rather than accidental. He was, after all, the man with the statutory responsibility to look after Teena’s safety and best interests. He could, and probably will, argue that the issue was touched on in previous correspondence to the Court. But for that matter, so were other aspects in the application.
When Sharon arrived in Rotorua she immediately made an appointment to see John Chadwick on Monday December 14. According to Sharon, he assured her he’d informed the appropriate authorities and the sexual abuse allegation was being treated seriously. As we now know from the documents, it wasn’t.
There is also considerable dispute over exactly what Chadwick told CYF psychologist Sue Henderson about the circumstances of the case. Sharon arranged to see Henderson later on that Monday. But Henderson seemed bemused at the idea of a medical examination for Teena.
“Why would we do a medical examination?” she asked. “Bedwetting is not serious enough to be taken as proof of sexual abuse.”
Sharon hit the roof.
“Bedwetting?! My mother found semen stains in my daughter’s panties. Who told you it was only ‘bedwetting’?”
“John Chadwick. Under those circumstances, we didn’t see any reason to interview Teena or get her examined”.
Sharon discovered that Chadwick had told CYF worker Ioli Nathan of a sexual abuse allegation on December 9, but that “seminal fluid” did not appear to have been discussed. Nor had Chadwick provided CYF with a copy of the grandmother’s December 9 affidavit detailing what she’d found. Little wonder that CYF thought they were simply dealing with just another over-reactive mother.
Sharon went back to her lawyers, grabbed a copy of her mother’s affidavit and gave it to Sue Henderson.
There was an immediate change in CYF’s attitude. Henderson told Sharon she wanted to see Teena “as soon as possible” for a diagnostic interview to determine the possibility of sexual abuse.
Chadwick, meanwhile, remained in a state of denial, telling Sharon’s lawyers, “I spoke to Sue Henderson today and she expressed surprise that Teena was to be interviewed by her today. She said she had not made any arrangements for such an interview and she said that she was not intending to interview the child.”
For the first time, the situation began to spin out of Chadwick’s control. The Counsel for the Child was well and truly behind the eight-ball.
As Sharon laid it out to the Law Society, “I firmly believe Mr Chadwick orchestrated an impression with key parties that he had taken the appropriate steps as Counsel for the Child to ensure Teena was examined…he…mislead and minimized the situation and presented a ‘bedwetting’ scenario to Sue Henderson anticipating, correctly, that nothing would proceed by way of a diagnostic interview.
“Over this period, time was of essence and the opportunity to obtain physical evidence was diminishing daily. Once NZCYPS staff were apprised of the situation following presentation of my mother’s affidavit they took immediate action to protect Teena via a Place of Safety Warrant. As a result, Teena was returned to me that day, December 18, 1992.
“Sue Henderson [was the one who] organized for Dr Morreau, Paediatrician, to carry out an examination of Teena, not Mr Chadwick. This was done 17 days after the alleged abuse incident.”
Henderson, despite Chadwick’s intimations, moved rapidly to assess Teena’s case for herself. After reading the affidavit she interviewed both mother and grandmother – digging further for any other signs that may indicate abuse. The grandmother noted inappropriate behaviour by the little girl, such as pulling up her shirt and rubbing her body against other family members when they were lying on the floor watching TV. Toby also mentioned that Teena had often tried to unzip his fly.
Taken together, said Henderson, “these are not typical behaviours for a two-year-old. I consider that this information raises concerns that Teena may have been sexually abused. I don’t think it is at all appropriate and it is possibly unsafe for her to be in her father’s care until these matters can be clarified.”
Henderson’s report was used as the basis to uplift Teena to a place of safety, and seek a full examination.
So there it was. Finally, nearly three weeks after the alleged seminal fluid was found, Teena was properly medically-examined for the first time. She was, as you’ll recall, only two-and-a-half years old.
But by now the evidence of any abuse, if it occurred 17 days earlier, was long gone. Dr Morreau did discover engorged anal veins and could not rule out sexual abuse. But nor could he rule it in. Result: inconclusive. It should be noted that anal injuries in children can heal as quickly as four days after an event.
Although swabs were taken, any semen, if it had been there, had well and truly vanished by this point.
The Place of Safety Warrant meant that CYF effectively took legal custody of Teena for the duration of the Warrant. CYF chose to place the child with her mother, although Family Court judge Philip Evans overturned this ruling only days later. Nonetheless, the safety period was long enough to get the child examined, in defiance of Chadwick’s interference.
Morreau had examined Teena on December 22, but his report was not delivered to John Chadwick until the afternoon of Friday, January 15, 1993. Teena was with her mother that day and, as Sharon records in her Law Society complaint, the little girl had a normal bowel motion on the morning of Saturday, January 16, before her father collected her for his weekend access.
On Monday morning, driving through town, Sharon saw her husband’s car parked outside Chadwick’s office. Her husband subsequently drove Teena to a doctor where he said the child was extremely constipated and needed medicine to loosen her bowels. The doctor also gave the father some cream to apply to the child’s anus. As Sharon remarked later, Michael had only had Teena for 48 hours – not long enough to become aware of “a serious constipation issue”. And why, wondered Sharon, did this sudden visit to a doctor come straight after a meeting with Chadwick?
Chadwick had a copy of the paediatrician’s report in his hands. In fact, he was probably the only one with the report at that stage. In her Law Society complaint Sharon believes – but has absolutely no proof – Chadwick leaked details of the report to the father, which prompted the father to try and set up a “constipation alibi” to explain engorged anal veins. She knew her daughter was not constipated. The anal cream prescription would provide good cover, she said, for claims that “Daddy touched my bottie”.
And there were certainly plenty of those claims surfacing now.
At just on two-and-a-half, and with a limited vocabulary and even shorter attention span, Teena would not have been a good candidate for parental coaching. As most parents know, trying to get a child that age to repeat something consistently quickly turns into a frustrating game of Chinese Whispers. So it was the child’s actions that initially spoke louder than words.
When CYF psychologist Sue Henderson began “play therapy” sessions – in which a child’s play and comments are closely observed – with Teena late in 1993, it quickly became apparent to Henderson that some kind of abuse had taken place. Teena’s play with dolls focused on a game where a man touched the doll’s genitals and “made it sore”. Teena told Henderson she was scared the doll would be killed. She talked of “monsters” that “hurt me”. Although the little girl never named a specific abuser (leading Henderson to note on her file “there is no specific disclosure of sexual abuse”), Henderson felt sufficiently convinced after only four of the scheduled 12 sessions that Teena’s play was “consistent with that of a child who has been sexually abused”, and that the references to “bottie sore” while pointing to the doll’s vagina were indicative of vaginal trauma.
Henderson was sufficiently concerned at the lack of interest by Counsel for the Child in the sexual abuse allegations that she supported efforts to have Chadwick removed from the case.
Here another irregularity in the case surfaces. Henderson was later interviewed by prominent forensic psychologist Gail Ratcliffe. Henderson confirmed to her that, “There have been problems in handling this case from day one. I will never understand what happened in this case. I certainly had concerns from the start. I asked the Court to appoint another Counsel for Child because I did not feel that he was acting in her best interests. That letter should be in the CYPS file. After conducting play therapy with Teena I was extremely concerned for her safety. No name came out but her play is highly consistent with the traumatic play of sexually abused children. I have no doubts about the abuse. I wrote to the Counsel for Child.”
Yet when the case finally came to trial in late 1993, CYF psychologist Sue Henderson was not allowed to testify as a witness. In fact, as Sharon argues it today, she believes John Chadwick and Family Court judge Philip Evans conspired to block her.
Compare the childish language recorded by both Sharon and Henderson, with a bizarre claim from Michael in February 1993, where he testified in evidence that he’d been driving with Teena in his car when the child (still only two and a half at that point) suddenly said “Roger (pseudonym) f***ed me up the ass”.
Apparently working from the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” school, Michael not only corroborated claims that his daughter was making sexualized statements, but in one fell swoop dropped his flatmate in the mix as the potential abuser.
The first hurdle to credibility of his core claim, however, is convincing people that a two- and-a-half year old girl who still says “bottie” would suddenly turn around and use the kind of graphic language normally heard in a pub.
The second hurdle for Michael is even more difficult. If he’s not telling the truth, then he’s lying. But if it’s a lie, it’s a bad one because he can no longer deny Sharon’s claims that the child is using sexualized language. At this point, both parents are reporting evidence of potential abuse, regardless of who they point the finger at.
Sharon herself did not appear to understand the significance of Michael’s admission. Instead of embracing Michael’s statement and using it as a lever to get the sexual abuse issue properly investigated, Sharon’s reaction was more of a standard kneejerk to Michael’s claim that she must have coached her daughter to say “f***ed up the ass”:
“Teena does not use this language when she is in my care. I have never heard her use such words. I have heard her saying ‘bitch’ and ‘bugger off’ upon returning from Roger’s and Michael’s place. She has been reprimanded for this and has not said it again in my presence. I have never heard Teena use the word ‘f***ed’. She has never talked like that to me. Teena only uses words and sentences she understands. I believe Michael has made this up.”
Indeed, nowhere else in the whole case is Teena ever said to have used the word.
Opportunity lost, the custody dispute dragged on.
Sharon was on legal aid, but by October 1993 she’d exceeded her $20,000 legal aid budget. Her lawfirm, Dennet Olphert Sandford & Dowthwaite, walked out on her just before the trial, leaving the 27-year-old solo mother flying blind and up against not just her husband’s legal team but a hostile judge and Counsel for the Child.
Is it ethical for a lawfirm to simply pull the plug before a trial and leave a client to swim? Apparently so, which is perhaps an issue the New Zealand Law Society needs to examine more closely in terms of a revamp of its code of ethics – should lawyers have a legal responsibility to finish a job they start; should lawyers be prevented from charging by the hour and required to charge by the case? After all, the vast bulk of complaints to the media about lawyers involve counsel who charge by the hour at full rate on minutiae – even when it’s a low-paid legal assistant actually licking the stamps or making calls – sucking the client dry of funds so they’re left with no cash to actually go to court.
Meanwhile Sharon says she asked for an adjournment so she could seek new legal counsel, but Judge Evans refused. As lawyer Rob Vigor-Brown later told Investigate: “You can quote me on this – she should never have been left to handle her own case alone for four days. It’s hard enough for us lawyers to cross-examine experts.”
But left alone she was, and the Court had a field-day stitching her up.
The legal battle Sharon was facing was simple: her ex-husband Michael was pushing to gain full custody of Teena – effectively locking Sharon out of the child’s life in a significant way that left her unable to protect the girl from the risk of further sexual abuse, if Michael was indeed the perpetrator.
The custody battle was fought out in two court hearings in late 1993. In the first decision, handed down in August, Judge Evans ruled that sexual abuse had not been proven. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to work that out. But the real question is, would sexual abuse have been proven if Counsel for the Child John Chadwick had done his job differently?
The Judge also made basic fundamental errors in his judgment. For example, he wrote, “The mother today says it was 17 days until the child was examined, but Mr Chadwick elicited in cross examination that in fact the grandmother took the child to a doctor at the hospital within 24 hours and that doctor found no evidence of abuse.”
As readers will already know, the doctor concerned conducted no rectal examination and did not inspect the underwear with the alleged semen stains. Of course the doctor found “no evidence of abuse” – he didn’t conduct a complete examination.
Judge Evans continues: “In the event, the maternal grandmother allegedly then washed the panties and the evidence allegedly was removed. That of course in itself is a surprising action in the circumstances.”
As Sharon sees it, which is more surprising: the actions of a stressed grandmother who felt no-one wanted to know, or the failure of Counsel for the Child to request an immediate medical examination when first presented with the allegation?
Two of Sharon’s friends, both members of a large Christian Church in Rotorua, testified about separate occasions where Teena had talked about her bottom being sore. One woman said she was visiting on June 7 1993, when Teena (still less than three years old at this point) said “Daddy hurt me”. When asked how, Teena replied, “He poked a hole in my bottie”.
The second woman said she was called in by Sharon on July 20 when Teena began complaining about a “sore bottie” and suggesting “Daddy poked his diddle in it”. The second woman prayed for the child to be protected – an action that earnt the scorn of Judge Evans who said that praying in front of the child “must cause the Court considerable concern”.
Judge Evans dropped another clanger, concluding: “Sharon’s allegations are unsupported as to anal penetration by the medical evidence.”
Again, would they have been unsupported if a medical examination had taken place straight away on the instructions of Counsel for the Child John Chadwick?
In hearing number two, in late October 1993, Judge Evans struck out Sharon’s bid to call Sue Henderson as a witness. Evidence from the first official investigation into the sex abuse claims was ruled out of bounds. As we’ve already seen, Henderson was convinced sexual abuse had occurred. The Court was not allowed to hear her say it.
Instead, the first witness was one of Sharon’s two church friends. And practically the first question from Michael’s lawyer, Jan Walker, is directed at the church both women attended.
“Is it fair to say that it is not one of the mainstream denomination churches?” quizzed Miss Walker. The witness explained to the hostile lawyer that Pentecostalism is mainstream Christianity.
Walker, Chadwick and the Judge all directed a considerable number of questions to various witnesses about their links to their church, with one of the lawyers describing it as “chilling”.
And when the lawyers weren’t making sinister implications about Sharon’s faith, they were laying traps for her. In one instance Chadwick was cross-examining Sharon on the semen in the underpants issue for several minutes until Judge Evans interrupted from the bench, eyeballing Sharon: “Can I issue this warning to you: you repeatedly when under pressure in cross-examination start talking as though you were present at things when patently you were not!”
“I’m sorry,” answered Sharon. “Mr Chadwick was asking, I thought I had to answer him.”
As an experienced lawyer, Chadwick knew he was asking the witness about an event she was not privy to.
Judge Evans lashed out at Sharon again just a few minutes later, telling her in effect to drop her case. “Is this battle going to go on indefinitely?…Answer the question, face up to reality!”
“It could go on; I just want her protected from what is going on.”
“Have you any concerns at all about the constant involvement of all sorts of professionals in your child’s life…all the physical exams?”
“She only had one exploratory exam.”
“Are you saying to me that you have no concerns?”
“I am concerned. I’m concerned for the whole thing, the way the paediatrician didn’t look at her until 17 days after –”
“I don’t want to get onto that topic again,” snapped the Judge. First rule of the courtroom: never ask a question you don’t want the answer to.
And yet, it appears Judge Evans was being deliberately selective. In the earlier hearing he had called for a diagnostic assessment of Teena by the CYF Manuwai unit in Hamilton.
That report was available to the Court and records:
“Teena spontaneously picked up a baby doll and undressed it. She made the comment ‘her bottie’s sore’ as she did this, and said she’s have to take the doll to the doctor. When asked what made the bottie sore she replied ‘Daddy’, but provided no clarification, context or detail for this remark. She named monsters as scary people and then said that this was Daddy, but she did not elaborate on this comment and no conclusions can be made from it.
“During the second part of the interview Teena named ‘diddle’ for penis when looking at a picture about bath time…when leaving the room a little later she was holding a doll and said that Daddy had ‘poked the bottom’ with his diddle. Again, she would not be drawn into elaborating on this comment…making it difficult to draw conclusions.
“In my experience,” analyst Karen Wilson wrote, “the type of language Teena is reported to have used…is consistent with the types of expressions young children do use to describe sexual activity they don’t understand. However, it is difficult at this late stage to interpret Teena’s original comments in isolation from more recent questioning she has had. Unfortunately, Teena is too young developmentally to interview effectively using a diagnostic format, it is therefore not possible to adequately assess her safety through this method and a definitive answer as to whether she has been abused is not possible.
“One option for the Court to consider would be extended play therapy for Teena with a child psychotherapist or psychologist, which could focus on general issues rather than sexual abuse. Further assessment in this way may resolve the issue of whether abuse has occurred.
“In my opinion, unsupervised access would leave all parties vulnerable until such time as Teena is old enough to be fully assessed through a diagnostic process.”
Several things emerged from that report. Firstly, the three year old continued to make sexualized comments in front of independent witnesses. Secondly, far from finding “no abuse” the report said merely “it is too early to tell”. It was the recommendation for extended play therapy that led to those sessions with Sue Henderson following this, but then by the time of the custody hearing in late October, Judge Evans refused to hear what Henderson had discovered in play therapy.
On the strength of exchanges like his interrogation of Sharon above, Judge Evans wrote in his judgment that Sharon was a liar, obsessed and unreliable.
“I am of the firm view that there is no evidence before me to raise even the suspicion of sexual abuse…I am of the view that if she persists with these examinations and cross-examination of Teena with the religious overtones of prayer that have been brought into it, and which I have commented on in my judgment in August, then the child is going to become severely psychologically damaged.”
Quite how the Judge could read the Manuwai unit report and not even find “the suspicion of sexual abuse” is not clear. Nor is it clear why he then ignored its recommendation not to allow “unsupervised access” which, of course, full custody is.
He gave Michael full custody, and restricted Sharon’s access to having Teena every second weekend – and even that arrangement had strings attached: by order of the Court, Teena was never to be questioned, ever again, not even by CYF, about sexual abuse. Unless the mother signed a written undertaking to that effect in front of the Court Registrar, she would not be allowed to see her daughter again.
If her husband was indeed a paedophile, then Counsel for the Child and Judge Evans had just delivered him Teena on a plate.
Although a depressed and almost suicidal Sharon signed the undertaking, she was not prepared to leave events where they stood. The Court, ironically, had ordered her to undergo counseling for her “obsession”, but the counselor soon came to the conclusion that Sharon was indeed telling the truth and suffering post traumatic stress disorder, and that Teena was showing signs of sexual abuse.
Margaret Craig, a Rotorua-based sex abuse counselor and addictions specialist, tried to figure out a way of getting the Family Court’s ruling on investigating sexual abuse overturned. For a start, the ruling was virtually unprecedented given the overarching responsibility of the Court to investigate any matter that may harm the child’s welfare, and secondly in her view there was a real risk to Teena by leaving the custody issue unchallenged.
As Craig said in an affidavit at one point, “I am left with the view that some professional attitudes towards the mother throughout the course of this case, in the final analysis have left this child bereft of an advocate.
“However, my position with Sharon is as a counselor. Only in extreme circumstances would a counselor initiate and be involved in disputing a decision of the Family Court. I further consider that this case is one which warrants my intervention.”
Craig called up a friend, local lawyer Rob Vigor-Brown, and explained the problem. Despite the fact that Sharon had no money, he agreed to work on the case because of the fundamental natural justice breaches he believed had taken place. Fresh proceedings were lodged, and the battle was on again.
There are only a few other key factors to note in this phase of our investigation. One is the decision by CYF to appoint Tauranga psychologist Sarah Calvert to provide a new report on the case. Calvert was one of the original founders of the feminist magazine Broadsheet back in the early 1970s, when colleagues remember “she was massively into ‘wimmin’s issues’, Wicca – lesbianism fascinated her as a way to throw off the shackles of patriarchal society.”
Calvert subsequently gave up heterosexuality and became a leading light in the lesbian wing of the feminist movement. Pertinent to this case, recalls one who knows her well, “she’s very good friends with Jan Walker. She and Sarah have been close mates for years. And for what it’s worth, Sarah and Labour MP Margaret Wilson are next door neighbours in Tauranga. They’ve been very, very good friends for years too.”
The problem with a small town is that everyone knows everyone else. Jan Walker and Claudia Elliott – the lawfirm acting for Michael – are well plugged into the Labour party. John Chadwick, Counsel for the Child, is married to a Labour MP who is active in women’s issues. The Chadwicks socialize with Walker and presumably Elliott. And Sarah Calvert, brought in to objectively report on the custody battle from a psychologist’s point of view, is very “close mates” with Michael’s lawyer, and a close personal friend of the Attorney-General.
Little wonder that Rob Vigor-Brown and Margaret Craig wrote to CYF opposing Calvert’s appointment.
“There is a personal relationship between Sarah Calvert on the one hand, and Jan Walker and Claudia Elliott on the other. I believe that Ms Calvert has not been used by the Family Court for some time…In this case the appearance of independence is especially critical given the history of the lack of independence already shown by other professionals.”
Calvert’s reports, in and of themselves, are inconsequential to our investigation, but they do result in another perceived breach of natural justice. The Calvert report weighs heavily in the father’s favour, and diagnoses the mother in this way: “Sharon, rather than suffering from ‘Battered Woman’s Syndrome’ or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is more likely to have a personality disorder which is of long standing”.
Now, Calvert is entitled to her professional opinion, but she’d actually never met Sharon. She hadn’t even talked to her over the phone! How was it possible for a psychologist to make an assessment of someone like this when they’d never met them?
What is also unusual about this case is the way professionals like Calvert, with a strong radical feminist worldview, managed to find the grace in her report to excuse Michael’s alleged violence in the marriage and sleeping with a knife in the marital bed as merely “post traumatic stress disorder” and “cultural”, when the natural instinct in the women’s movement would be to howl for such a male’s blood. Yet in her report, Calvert doesn’t give Sharon, a white female Christian, the same benefit of the doubt and – without meeting her – diagnoses her as suffering from a “personality disorder” rather than Battered Wife Syndrome.
Yet the Calvert report was used in Court, yet again, to deny Sharon’s custody bid.
Margaret Craig, Rob Vigor-Brown and now forensic psychologist Gail Ratcliffe turned their guns on Calvert, on Chadwick and on the Family Court ruling. Eventually Chadwick’s role ended when proceedings were lodged in a different region, but his replacement as Counsel for the Child was another female lawyer, understood to be “very close” to Calvert.
We are not alleging in this article that merely because lawyers and psychologists are friends or know each other socially that anything wrong has actually taken place. However, like lawyer Rob Vigor-Brown, we are concerned that justice must be seen to be done, and perceived conflicts of interest are as serious to the administration of justice as real ones in terms of eroding public faith in the legal system.
Margaret Craig and Gail Ratcliffe perused handwritten poems and letters penned by Michael, looking for evidence about the man’s state of mind. One little ditty he wrote goes like this, “I want sex/Don’t come on the desk/Where my old man rests/You may shake this sweat off my chest.”
Another, apparently written before Teena’s birth:
“I vomit my own guilt/And flush (flash?) a smile/I transfer my crime/To an unborn child”.
There are other, more explicit writings. He wrote, for instance about the pleasure he got from masturbation, and violence. Slowly but surely, Sharon’s new support team managed to get increasing levels of access for her.
The purpose of this story, however, as we stated right at the beginning, is not to prove that sexual abuse took place. Instead, we hope we have illustrated in this extended
investigation that it was impossible to prove sexual abuse because of what we believe were fundamental errors of judgment by Counsel for the Child John Chadwick, exacerbated by an irascible Family Court judge. It is our opinion that those two men failed in their statutory responsibility to protect the child, by failing to properly ascertain whether the child was actually being harmed or not. While it is a welcome change to see courts supporting fathers, there is a now famous quote which says “Justice should be seen to be blind, not stupid.”
Justice is harmed when pendulums swing too far in either direction. For the record, John Chadwick was cleared of any wrongdoing by the two Law Society (local and national) investigations into Sharon’s complaints.
Hindsight eventually proved, however, that Sharon’s fears about her ex-husband’s background were correct – four years ago Michael became involved in a drug deal that went wrong and disappeared with an AK-47 rifle, leaving a girlfriend behind. The police alerted Sharon, and Michael eventually turned up outside Teena’s school some months later, planning to abduct her. As a result of this, he was forced to sign over full custody to Sharon.
Teena, now 14, suffers what psychologists call “intrusions” in her dreams centering on rape and sexual violence. She has not seen her father for several years. According to Sharon, he is now in the hospitality industry and addicted to methamphetamines.