The Kahui twins: Murder - and the cover-up

By Carroll du Chateau, Louisa Cleave, Phil Taylor, Martin Johnston

By the time the emergency doctors at Middlemore Hospital got the chance to try to save little Chris and Cru Kahui, it was too late.

It was the evening of Tuesday, June 13. Their mother, Macsyne King, seemed unconcerned at first. The problem, she said, was that the twins were not feeding.

Doctors quickly established why. The babies were as good as dead; tests for brain function were negative.

When the mother was asked what had happened, she immediately requested a patient advocate. Soon after, hospital authorities telephoned the police.

Hours later, the diagnosis was made. Massive brain damage to both children, a broken femur for one. The cause: extreme violence.

Technically, the tiny twins, born 11 weeks early, were still patients of Middlemore Hospital. For the six weeks they had been home, they had been monitored by the hospital's extramural neo-natal service, which also has an iwi section.

They were almost up to the weights and developmental milestones the hospital required before they could be discharged.

Middlemore says the babies were seen in the week they died and were judged healthy and well nourished.

Auckland hospital services spent between $30,000 and $60,000 on Chris and Cru Kahui during their short and traumatic lives.

For their first five days, they were at National Women's in Grafton, where they were born.

The neonatal intensive care unit, where they lay in their Perspex cots fighting to maintain their body temperatures during those first, fragile days, is state-of-the-art. The walls are covered in art, including Pat Hanly paintings. The babies' every need is met by a 24-hour team of dedicated doctors and nurses.

Born on March 20, the Kahui twins were not tiny for 29-weekers. They probably weighed about 1100 grams each, and were 39cm long. Their heads would have been about as big as a grapefruit.

Their next five and a bit weeks were nearer home, at Middlemore's KidzFirst Hospital. Again the twins were in a sparkling-new, world-class neo-natal unit, where new babies are welcomed with teddy bears and family-friendly facilities.

There is space for families to stay with their babies and, more than at probably any other hospital in the country, efforts are made to accommodate the large number of Maori and Pacific Island families who go there.

The walls are cream, the atmosphere hushed and peaceful, the babies, in their outsized-looking nappies, utterly defenceless.

Says Lindsay Mildenhall, neonatal clinical leader at Middlemore: "A lot of attention has gone into privacy and providing a nurturing milieu for families and parents to visit their children."

Although mothers are not obliged to stay in hospital, they are strongly encouraged to express breast milk for their babies. At first this is fed through tubes; later, it is suckled directly.

Compare this with the house at 101 Maplesden Drive, Clendon, which Chris and Cru came home to in early May. Down a narrow right-of-way, it is small and shoddy. The walls are grey-blue fibreboard, misted with green mould, the guttering sprouts grass and weeds. The carport is sheltered by a plastic tarpaulin, the neighbours are too close. The high back fence is topped with two lines of barbed wire, and someone has put a couple of orange traffic cones at each side of the concrete drive, possibly to warn of children wandering, possibly to stop people scratching their cars.

Until last Tuesday 12 people and two small babies lived in this cramped three-bedroomed house, drinking, smoking dope and cigarettes, partying, fighting - and sleeping in rotating shifts.

Chris and Cru shared a cot, their 21-year-old father, Sonny Chris Kahui (known as Chris), a gentle, modest man with a collection of hangers-on, did much of their bathing and caring.

Their mother, Macsyne, known as Macs, is 10 years older than her partner and sometimes jealous of the younger women who hang round him.

Despite the parties she expressed breast milk for the babies - at least intermittently. Her four older children live with another former partner.

And around them, like something out of Once Were Warriors, rages the whanau.

First is Banjo, Chris's Dad, who seems to be chief occupant of the house. He and Chris's mother are separated. She lives in Mangere; he is a hard man.

Then there is Macsyne and Chris's other son, Shane, Chris's younger sisters, Mo and Eva (and sometimes her boyfriend), and his brothers Elvis and William, plus his boyfriend, Ray. The youngest is Kianne, who is the daughter of Mo and her partner Stewie, who lives here too.

Only one person has a job, as a cleaner.

Party nights are Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the rest of the adults get their benefits.

The parties rage through the night until the fighting gets dirty and the sickening crunch of bodies being hurled against walls begins.

Alcohol is a priority. Sometimes the group sit in the dark and drink rather than pay the power bill.

One night recently, a 16-year-old fled to a neighbour's place after one of the older men tried to sexually abuse her. "It was 3.30 in the morning," said the neighbour. "She was terrified. We took her in but we were scared too."

Often Chris and Macs would take the babies and drive the 10-15 minutes to Chris's mother's home in Mangere.

Here at 22 Courtenay Cres is another, older Housing New Zealand House. It too is painted pale blue, but it has the solid wooden weatherboards of the '60s, a big, grassy section, a teddy bear on the windowsill of a child's bedroom, and a hopeful planting of white arum lilies against the fence.

It's only when you walk around the back that you see the broken window, the kid's yellow bike against the wall, the used disposable nappies spilling out of black plastic rubbish sacks on the ground against the house.

The washing on the line hangs sodden and forlorn, much of it on the ground. Chris's mother is ill in hospital, the rest of the family are at the Manurewa Marae, where the tangi for the twins is well in progress.

Chris and Macsyne helped carry the single coffin and its two small bodies on to the marae.

Despite the relative tidiness of the place, this is also a party house. It was here that Macsyne found her twins battered and dying when she arrived back after a 12-hour absence. Neighbours talk about rowdy, all-night parties, drunkenness and fights.

The perplexing thing about this case is that the various services tried so hard to help. KidzFirst goes to extraordinary lengths with its families.

The people involved know their rights. The minute Middlemore Hospital diagnosed her babies as brain dead, Macsyne King demanded a patient advocate.

Former MP John Tamihere is not impressed. "They [the family] had a meeting before the first one died to, I guess, obfuscate is probably the best word. You can't have two babies murdered and the level of blockage of information flow as to who the perpetrators of the murders are."

How do babies get into these situations? Tamihere says the circumstances won't be very different than they were for James Whakaruru, beaten to death by his stepfather at age of 4, and Hinewaoriki "Lillybing" Karaitiana-Matiaha, who died aged 23 months after being violently shaken by an aunt.

"This isn't an excuse, but is what might have happened," says Mr Tamihere. "The type of profile: beneficiary family, probably second or third generation, no doubt Maori. While they are kin relations, there is no discipline, no culture, no values in those relationships."

"What invariably happens is you are degraded to an extent you're addicted to certain bad behaviours. You become hugely self-centred over getting whatever fixes you.

"The net result of that is you don't care about your conduct, you don't care about its ramifications, about its impact.

"You just care about the next 14 days till you get your 'bene'. In between, you might have been able to score booze, dope and you might have had a good flutter on the pokies. Your life is a narrow funnel."

Mr Tamihere believes those involved at hospitals and early childhood agencies "know what babies are at risk, but what they do is wait for something to go crash rather than put in an intervention".

Why were no flags raised in this case?

"That's something that will come out in the wash, but you can assure yourself that a number of people who ever had those babies near them will be running for cover right now."

That extends to the family. Pressure has been mounting on them all week to give up the person or people who injured Chris and Cru.

Police worked behind the scenes for seven days before going public with information that they were dealing with family members who would not co-operate with the investigation.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Tims, who is leading the inquiry, said on Tuesday that witnesses wanted to go through the grieving process before speaking to police.

The fact about a dozen family members had taken legal advice was not complicating progress, he said.

Family members were now suffering from guilt as well as grief, he said, and they had a "second chance" to help the babies by talking to police.

Mr Tims was silent on Thursday but yesterday - five days after Chris and Cru were taken off life support and died in their parents' arms - he said the family had made a pact not to co-operate with the police.

"This investigation will not stop until we have found the individuals responsible for the murder of Cru and Chris Kahui."

Within that sentence was one word he had not used all week - murder.

- additional reporting: Phil Taylor and Martin Johnston

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