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Inquest Into Toddler Asked To Help Prevent Similar Cases

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Rotorua, April 20 NZPA - The lawyer assisting a coronal inquiry into the death of Rotorua toddler Nia Glassie has invited the court to adopt the motto of the Ontario chief coroner "to speak for the dead to protect the living".

The three-year-old died in 2007 of brain injuries after suffering a lifetime of mistreatment at the hands of her family which included being spun in a clothes dryer and subjected to wrestling moves.

Opening proceedings today counsel David Dowthwaite, a former Rotorua coroner, said the court could not be reasonably satisfied from the criminal court evidence alone that the circumstances of Nia's death had been determined as required by the Coroner's Act.

After hearing submissions from Mr Dowthwaite and counsel for the Ministry of Social Development Adam Lewis, coroner Dr Wallace Bain formally opened the inquest to allow Rotorua mayor Kevin Winters to speak.

Mr Winters outlined the steps he had taken since Nia's death to raise community awareness into child abuse and neglect. Two mayoral summits had been held to discuss what was "not just a Rotorua matter".

"Questions the forums raised were why did this happen and how all could work better to prevent it recurring?" Mr Winters said.

Mr Dowthwaite noted all criminal proceedings relating to the Glassie case were complete and one of the purposes of an inquest was for the coroner to make specific recommendations or comments that would draw matters to public attention and reduce the chances of other deaths in similar circumstances.

Court proceedings against those responsible had not extended to determining the circumstances of Nia's death beyond matters specifically connected with criminal charges.

He said it was necessary to examine the environment in which the abuse took place to help spot warning signs in the future.

Mr Lewis said it was likely evidence would be given by Work and Income and Child Youth and Family (CYF). They would say CYF had not been aware of Nia's birth "which raises issues of monitoring and tracking services".

Dr Bain said he was particularly interested in hearing about these matters.

"Who checks [these children's] environment, their warrant of fitness?"

He referred to a sentencing comment by Justice Judith Potter relating to the risks brought about by Nia's mother, Lisa Kuka, who gave Nia's day-to-day care to her 17-year-old partner.

Kuka, then aged 35, was found guilty of manslaughter in 2008 by a jury in the High Court at Rotorua and sentenced to nine years jail.

Her partner Wiremu Curtis and his older brother Michael, then aged 19 and 22 respectively, were sentenced to life imprisonment for Nia's murder, with a minimum non-parole period of 17-1/2 years.

Their father William Curtis, then 50, received four years in prison for assaults on Nia.

Nia's cousin Michael Pearson, then 20, and Michael Curtis' partner Oriwa Kemp, then 18, were found not guilty of manslaughter but guilty of wilful ill-treatment and sentenced to three years and three years four months respectively. Kemp was released on parole last July.

Dr Bain adjourned proceedings until August 23.

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