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Only hope from Moko’s death is protection for other children

Opinion Piece

The horrific case of the fatal beating of a three-year-old at Taupo has led to a call for changes in the way New Zealand deals with homicide charges, but that would have minimal impact on the essential problem of violence in New Zealand society.

Moko Rangitoheriri suffered unbelievable cruelty over a two-month period from the people in whose care his mother had left him while she was in Auckland. The level of violence is such it is hard to believe that sentient human beings were capable of it.

The supposed caregivers Tania Shailer and David William Haerewa pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the first day of their High Court trial at Rotorua for murder.

Canterbury University law professor Chris Gallavin has called on the Law Commission to consider different degrees of murder for cases like this and says New Zealand’s homicide laws are a complete mess, needing a review from the ground up.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust was quick to weigh in, saying that plea bargaining has become a problem in the justice system.

However Dame Lesley Max, chief executive of the child and family charity Great Potentials, while concerned the more serious charge was dropped, understands why it was done. By going to a manslaughter charge the Crown got a full confession and a conviction, albeit on the lesser charge. As she rightly says, it is harder to get a conviction on a charge of murder — although on the facts known of this case it would seem to be the exception.

An amended schedule of charges in homicide cases could be a partial answer but there will always be plea bargaining.

The big problem is violence within the home towards children.

Child, Youth and Family, the agency charged with protecting at-risk children, has let them down too often. It is now undergoing a full review.

Hopefully the inquest announced yesterday will provide answers to how this tragedy could have been avoided. What is needed most though is a complete change in people’s thinking, which no government or agency can achieve alone.