Garner on Moko and how to prevent others from the same fate

As you will know 3-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri was brutally beaten and tortured and left to die in the hallway of his caregivers’ home in Taupo last year.

Moko’s mother Nicola was in Auckland caring for a seriously sick child at Starship children’s hospital, who required several operations during a two-month stay.

Her young son was in and out of intensive care – she slept in his room on the ward.

The violence towards Moko took place over two weeks, it may have been longer.

Imagine how frightening it would have been. He had no voice and no way to escape. His incredibly brave sister risked her own safety trying to help her little brother. But a child is no match for adult monsters.

Moko was denied any medical care. It would have been like a real life horror movie – except it was real.

He was dying over a period of days and no adult in the house bothered to get him care. They went out of their way to make sure he didn’t actually.

They barely got him a glass of water. He couldn’t be saved.

I’ve been overwhelmed with public feedback after my interview with Moko’s mum this week. People are rightly horrified that this could happen in our country.

Business owners, mums and dads and some well-known New Zealanders have approached me and asked what they can do to stop this.

I didn’t know what to say except spread the message that this must stop and that violence and abuse towards children, or indeed anyone, is unacceptable.

But we must demand that something happens. And it starts with parenting.

Because only parents can truly and honestly love a child in my view. The state or government can’t see through walls into people’s homes.

But there will always be bad parents. So we must intervene in these families early.

We need someone to teach love. Short of stopping these people breeding, we need to teach them what the generations before have failed to do.

If the cycle is not broken it will continue.

This means getting in early and living with them. Like a surrogate third parent. It’s expensive and time consuming and hard – but it will save lives.

And they also need just one leader within these families to stop the violence. Much like the sober driver system, we need families to nominate the leader within.

I have faith in Moko’s mum, Nicola. I have got to know her over the past 10 days. She needs her other two children back from Child, Youth and Family care now.

It’s a shame CYF and other agencies and whanau weren’t there to take them when it was absolutely vital. But that was then and this is now.

People have been largely supportive and sympathetic towards Nicola.

I want people to know she found the courage to leave her marriage to a Black Power gang leader.

Nicola only discovered he was in a gang on their wedding night – when he pulled his patch out from under the bed.

She was regularly beaten before summoning the strength to grab her kids and flee from that lifestyle.

Nicola has a background in education and is gaining a business qualification.

She’s only 27. She has a full life ahead of her. We can’t give up on her. I bet she goes on to be a great mum and achieve great things. I know she will.

Her lawyer, a friend of 15 years, and Shine, the domestic abuse agency, have total faith in her and her parenting.

I will never, ever forget sitting with her and doing that interview. The pain in the room could be felt and seen by all of us.

But as grim as the whole situation is, I sense some good will come of this.

There may be less abuse, there may be more reporting of violence and somewhere, someone, will be saved.

The level of violence can be reduced if we all step up.

And I hope coroner Wallace Bain makes some stinging recommendations in his inquiry into this death.

Thirteen children were killed last year in New Zealand. It’s our national shame.

We can’t bring Moko back – but we can save others. Please don’t give up and say it’s all too hard, or it’s not happening in my street so it’s none of my business.

This has to be everyone’s business.

I wish I knew the answer.  In the end I subscribe to the belief that in society you have the full range of people.  And sadly that includes those that think nothing of treating a child like Moko… I was going to say, like an animal.  But I suspect that it wouldn’t even be as good as that.

There are two problems.  One, is that the people who do these sorts of things already exist now.  And they aren’t likely to change.

The other problem is how we prevent more kids growing up into people that would treat children like Moko.

It’s the same as the poverty trap, but with much more obvious and extreme results.

Like Duncan, I don’t see how marching down the street is going to save the next Moko.  If it was that easy, we’d all be out there getting rained on.

In the end, I think Stuart Nash had a part of the solution.  Once you take the life of a child, or torture, rape or otherwise abuse a child, you have broken your contract with society.  Your life is forfeit in exchange.  We may not have the death penalty, but you’ll be caged.  Allowed out one hour a day, and fed bland food and water that will sustain you for the rest of your life.   Perhaps every cell has a strong hook in the ceiling, and a coil of strong rope.

I’m not sure it will prevent another Moko, but at least we would have an eye for an eye.  Society needs life for a life under these circumstances.  It is the only way the ledger can be balanced.


– Duncan Garner, NZ Herald


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  • phronesis

    An “eye for an eye” is essentially what we have now with our punitive justice system. You do the crime , you do the time. The problem of course is that you then get let out to do it all over again. I am in favour of a preventative justice system where the intent is to protect society from criminals. Regardless of the crime you only get let out if you don’t seem likely to reoffend. The 3 strikes system is in many ways a move in this direction.

  • Mark

    We need some sort of working prison. Instead of society paying the cost of punishment. Society gets a double whammy when crooks go to jail. The initial crime, and around $100,000 a year for each prisoner

    • waldopepper

      yes, prisons where the prisoners work daily to grow their own food etc would be a start. it would certainly reduce the cost to the taxpayer.

  • Alan Beresford B’Stard

    “Short of stopping these people breeding”
    Unfortunately that’s the answer right there.

  • Catriona

    So why are the other kids in CYS care? Why isn’t Nicola deemed a fit parent. What’s going on? Bend it very hard to believe the wedding night story. Sorry Duncan, what else aren’t you telling us?

    • Rick H

      My immediate thoughts also, reading the “wedding night” revelation.
      Unless they married the night they met, surely, if she had eyes and a brain, she must have known.

      • Catriona

        Yes. The sceptic within me says Garner’s story is full of bulldust. Nek minute he’ll put up a Give a Little page on behalf of this woman.

      • Mike

        Her tattoos don’t help the situation at all, they look like gang tats to me.

    • Jude

      I agree. I am concerned that releasing those children back to their mother again puts them at risk.
      I hope the little girl is safe and is getting the love and counselling she must need.
      I am not sympathetic towards the Mother.
      Maybe I have been hardened by the sheer numberof these monsters hurting children.
      The fact that one child was in Starsship rings alarm bells. The lack of judgement of the Mother warrants further scrutiny .

  • sandalwood789

    Nothing will happen.

    How could the abuse be stopped?
    * Remove all children from any parents who have been convicted of abuse.
    * Stop all welfare payments to those parents.
    * Sterilise those parents (they’ve proven that they have no right to have children).
    * Put a soldier or policeman in every Maori home in the country ( given that Maori are over-represented in the abuse stats. )

    Of these measures, only the first one occasionally happens.

  • Lux

    In schools, there should be a designated safe zone for children, where they feel comfortable reporting crimes. The zone should be in all schools where any child can go and report abuse or anything else that is troubling them.

    There should be a dedicated member of staff for this job and be on hand at all times during school hours, and after school.

    Teachers … and the school officials are so important to these cases coming to light because (they notice) the bruises and the injuries and the things no one else maybe cares about or notices.

    There’s really nobody keeping an eye on the children other than their families and those close to them, who are most often the culprits in cases of neglect and child abuse.

    The safe zone unit needs to be in partnership with the police and CYFS, and all other relevant agencies.

    Anyone who has reason to suspect that a child may be a victim can report the matter there as well.

    Children aren’t responsible for their own protection, there needs to be a huge shift where help starts. Educate children in schools, what is right and wrong and let them know where to go in the school grounds for help. Have open frank discussions about the physical and behavioural signs of abuse and neglect.

    Give children a safe zone they feel comfortable with and can use their voice.

  • Plantagenet

    Kids are abused/killed at a staggeringly high rate in this country because of the following reasons:

    1. Total lack of sexual self-control. How many cases where mother has had numerous kids, by numerous partners, one of whom is killed by the latest boyfriend? Too many to recall.

    2. Wanton violence as part of everyday existence and that includes verbal as well as physical violence.

    3. Drugs and alcohol.

    4. Welfare.

    5. Criminality as a normal way of life.

    The root causes of all these problems lie in the kinds of sensibilities, and values, that we as a society have decided to adopt. We have accepted promiscuity and the devaluing of marriage and we mock those who show restraint in their lives; we have glamorised violence, especially all the ‘warrior’ and the gangmember ‘staunch’ bulldust; we accept high levels of drinking and drugging and some even want the latter legalised; we have allowed welfare to become a way of life for multiple generations; being a criminal is no longer shameful and the police and courts are no longer either respected or feared. Until all those things are properly addressed kids like Moko will continue to die. I won’t hold my breath because even talking about those issues requires making moral judgments and that is taboo in this day and age.

    • Gaynor

      3. Drugs and alcohol.

      4. Welfare.

      5. Criminality as a normal way of life.

      These would be the main reasons. Plus…because we are on the 2nd or 3rd generation now we have diminished brain power to contend with.

  • Keanne Lawrence

    Garner seems to have been getting a snow job but we will give him points for trying. The judiciary do have teeth but the purveyor’s of justice seem to have had all theirs removed and come sentencing time can’t even find an old set of dentures. Far too many are swayed by sob stories that truly makes justice in these cases blind ending up trying to convince themselves and the general public that the killers are the victims.
    With the treatment dished out to these poor little people nobody gives a toss if they were stoned or high on whatever concoction they indulge in. Their actions are criminal as well as heinous and focus should be on what they did or perhaps didn’t do to cause a child’s death.
    It’s high time these scum were treated to a taste of just how strong the law is with the maximum sentence starting point and working down from there instead of the other way. That will have the biggest effect as a deterrent for most who should never be permitted to breed or have children in their care. No more PC waffling and no more cotton wool landings. Crossing the line means taken the fall. Hard.