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Abhorrent silence in the spotlight

Editorial

Fifteen years after the tragic death of the Kahui twins most people will be staggered that family members with key evidence in child abuse cases still have the right to remain silent.

The issue has arisen again after the arrest of a 25-year-old woman for obstructing the course of justice in the investigation into the death of a 14-month-old infant in Auckland in May. Key members of the immediate family of Sofia Taueki-Jackson are still refusing to assist the investigation team police say.

Not surprisingly the situation has caused an uproar. Jess McVicar of the Sensible Sentencing Trust described the family's actions as cowardly.

The most reasoned comments have come from the Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft who believed it was “abhorrent “that people might not give evidence or information about what happened to their child. “Those who have children have a solemn responsibility to provide them with the necessities of life,” he said.

Becroft wants an investigation into what can be done about the issue and changes made. But on television last night he made it clear that he did not want the right to silence removed altogether, only as it referred to cases involving the abuse of children.

It is not the first time that he has raised the issue but nothing seems to have been done.

The National Party spokesman Simon Bridges also wants a change saying that cases like Sofia's were coming up too regularly.

Bridges, a former police commissioner, referred to the classic case of the Kahui twins who died after suffering head injuries in 2006. Some family members initially refused to speak to police.

Bridges says the problem at the moment is that if the family clam up, and those around them do the same, police simply don't have the tools or ability to get justice for the child. We really need a new offence here — criminalising the non-disclosure of information in these cases.

No one has ever been convicted in the case of the Kahui twins. Their father Chris Kahui was charged with their murder but after a six-week trial a jury took just one minute to acquit him.

A coroner found that their deaths occurred “while they were in the sole custody, care and control of their father.”

There have been numerous similar cases in the past 15 years as New Zealand's horrific record of abuse of children continued. Successive governments, both National and Labour led, have done nothing. It is long past time for that to change.