The Press editorial on politicising tragedy

In the wake of the sentencing of scumbags Tania Shailer and David Haerewa for killing “Moko”, the Press editorial takes issue with the politicising of tragedy.

The “justice for Moko” movement was an expression of populism at its most raw and sincere. People came together for peaceful protests outside courthouses from Whangarei to Invercargill on Monday. The crowds were typically small, numbering between 100 and 200. A group of 30 assembled on Stewart Island, which does not even have a courthouse. The largest reported crowd of 500 was in Rotorua, where Tania Shailer and David Haerewa were sentenced to 17 years imprisonment for the manslaughter of three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri.

It hardly needed to be demonstrated, but the protests showed that disgust at the horrific, sustained violence inflicted on a toddler by people who were supposed to care for him is a national issue. More than that, it showed that Moko had, like Nia Glassie eight years earlier, transcended the specifics of his own story to become a symbol of both the terrible potential for individual violence and a failure of systems that are supposed to protect children.   

But for the Sensible Sentencing Trust, there was another dimension to the “justice for Moko” protests. The trust is outraged that Shailer and Haerewa had been allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter rather than be charged with murder. It is the core business of the Sensible Sentencing Trust to argue that offenders should always be locked up for longer even though it turned out that 17 years is the highest sentence imposed for the manslaughter of a child in New Zealand.

Opposition parties also lined up to condemn the decision to downgrade the charges from murder to manslaughter. To them, it reeked of plea bargaining. Their suspicions were partly enabled by the Government’s reluctance to explain and the high-handed way in which Attorney-General Chris Finlayson defended the decision. If a populist movement was ever looking for a patronising elite, it would find it embodied in Finlayson. He dismissed his critics as “ill-informed and dangerous” and implied that they lacked the intellectual ability to understand the issue, as they needed it explained to them “in words of one syllable”.

Finlayson’s explanation was released within an hour of the sentencing of Shailer and Haerewa and was entirely satisfactory. In words of more than one syllable, he revealed the risk that one or both could be found not guilty if charged with murder, based on the available evidence, and that a jury may not have been persuaded of murderous intent. The decision was not taken lightly. But it still has not kept the populists, including NZ First leader Winston Peters, from attempting to make political capital out of the tragedy.

Far better that they were convicted of something, and sentenced, than getting off on a technicality. The reality is that they are spending the same amount of time in prison for their disgusting crimes.


– The Press

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.