Trying to make Moko’s death count for something

Just before rising from the judge’s bench, Coroner Wallace Bain paused.

“To Moko’s mum at the back of the court, our sympathies to you again.

“I hope this is…I know you’ve lost your little boy but as a result of this inquest I hope it will help other little children being lost.”

The closing remarks were a touch of humanity after three days of dark, sometimes detached evidence, as lawyers and professionals analysed the life and death of Moko Rangitoheriri from every angle.

The wider ills of society, the dysfunctional home Moko lived in, the horrendous list of injuries which killed him, and the many missed opportunities to save the 3-year-old.

On hearing the gentle words from the coroner, Dally-Paki smiled sadly, nodded and mouthed “thank you”.

For while the hearing was about a little boy, the evidence was about two young mothers.

Nicola Dally-Paki and Tania Shailer, one of Moko’s killers, were struggling to cope. But the warning signs were either “missed, misinterpreted, or minimised”, in the words of Judge Andrew Becroft, the Children’s Commissioner.

Dally-Paki trusted Tania Shailer; they had been friends for 15 years.

Shailer was also a trained early childhood teacher, so Dally-Paki thought her children were in good hands.

But like Dally-Paki, Shailer was struggling to cope.

She had four children of her own – aged 7, 5, 4 and 2 – to take care of and was battling worsening depression.

While ultimate responsibility for Moko’s death lay with Shailer and her partner David Haerewa, Judge Becroft pointed out “considerable responsibility” for the agencies working with her.

They were the Maori Women’s Refuge, Family Works and REAP, which held the contract for the Family Start home visit service, as well as Child Youth & Family.

While Shailer was skilful in hiding what was happening in her home, Judge Becroft said she dropped a number of worrying comments which properly skilled professionals should have picked up on.

These “red flags” included her statements about her depression worsening and struggling with two extra children, as well as coping with Moko’s behaviour.

Despite some professionals actually visiting the house, they did not query why Moko was spending long amounts of time in his room or ask to see him.

Everyone involved in working with children – not just Oranga Tamariki staff – needed to be properly trained so they can pick up on the danger signs, said Judge Becroft.

“All of the community agencies involved knew the household was under stress and that Tania Shailer had mental health problems and a history of family violence,” said Judge Becroft.

“Sadly, none of them thought to check on Moko’s wellbeing.”



– Jarad Savage, NZ Herald