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Mana Whanonga Pirihimana Motuhake

Flawed Police investigation into inappropriate contact between teacher and student

11 December 2018


The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that a Police investigation into inappropriate contact between a teacher and a student in Gisborne in 2014 was deficient in several respects.

In April 2014, the Gisborne Police Child Protection Team (CPT) commenced an investigation after they were alerted to an allegation of inappropriate contact between Sam Back, an intermediate school teacher, and Reiha McLelland, a 13 year old student.

Police completed the CPT investigation in June 2014, concluding that there was insufficient evidence of criminal offending. On 1 August 2014, Reiha died in Gisborne Hospital and her death was referred to the Coroner.

In April 2017, after attending both the Teachers Council Disciplinary Tribunal hearing and the Coroner's inquest, Reiha's parents made a complaint to the Authority raising a number of concerns.

The Authority conducted an independent investigation and found that:

  • the CPT investigating officer did not adequately assess the evidence;
  • notwithstanding the inadequacy of the Police assessment, the Authority agrees that there was insufficient evidence available to Police to charge Mr Back with a criminal offence;
  • the investigating officer's supervisor had a conflict of interest which was not properly managed, and consequently the investigation was not adequately supervised;
  • the investigation plan was inadequate and not all appropriate enquiries were conducted;
  • information obtained from the interviews of Reiha and Mr Back was not recorded appropriately; and
  • the interview of Mr Back was not conducted properly.

The Authority also found that the Police's initial consultation with Child, Youth and Family (CYF) was delayed. While Police policy at the time did not require a 'multi-agency' approach to the investigation, Police should have further considered how the information they held might be relevant for other agencies involved in Reiha's care.

Although the investigating officer's supervisor had a conflict of interest, the Authority concluded that the supervisor was not actively involved in the investigation, the case was appropriately assigned and the outcome was not pre-determined.

However, the supervisor did make submissions to the Teachers Council regarding name suppression for Mr Back which were patently wrong and misleading. This was contrary to Police policy and amounted to misconduct at the serious end of the spectrum.

"If the supervisor had intended to mislead the Teachers Council, he would have been guilty of the offence of attempting to pervert the course of justice. However, such an intent cannot be proved", said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.

The Authority also determined that:

  • Police did not leak an internal report to the Gisborne Herald;
  • while Police initially failed to disclose all the relevant data to the Coroner, this was not a deliberate attempt to withhold information; and
  • there was a lack of ongoing support for Reiha's family during the inquest process, but this was not due to any neglect of duty by Police.

CYF is now known as Oranga Tamariki.

Public Report

Complaint regarding a Police investigation into inappropriate contact between a teacher and student (PDF 504 KB)
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