Tapu Misa on current affairs

Tapu Misa is a Herald columnist focussing on Pacific affairs

Tapu Misa: Sympathy for the mother of the dead Kahui twins

Macsyna King. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Macsyna King. Photo / Steven McNicholl

What have we learned from the trial and inquest into the Kahui twins' death? Absolutely nothing, it seems.

Last week, the coroner's 77-page judgment was released after months of legal haggling. The finding was unsurprising to those who've followed the case closely.

Journalist Ian Wishart, who had pored over trial and inquest transcripts, had long since reached the same conclusion in his controversial book Breaking Silence, which was banned by some bookstores last year amid a virulent Facebook campaign that attracted 50,000 followers.

The coroner is clear that there is not a skerrick of evidence that the babies' mother, the reviled Macsyna King, caused their deaths. The evidence points to the father Chris Kahui, who's already been acquitted of their murder.

So should we have the grace to cut Macsyna King some slack? Not a chance.

Her tearful appearance on Campbell Live last week was described as "whininess" by shock jock columnist Michael Laws, who called King "a career carer" and "the embodiment of all that is wrong with our welfare indulgence. You are exactly the kind of person who shouldn't be having kids because you can't really care."

A Herald reader suggested that it wasn't unfair to label King "a monster, someone who didn't give a damn, who paid no attention". Another wrote that the mother of "such tiny, fragile babies" should not "abandon them for 24 hours, even in the care of their father".

Is it the lot of mothers to be harshly judged? Too many people have been content to make pronouncements about Macsyna King and the Kahui case from a position of ignorance and prejudice.

It's been six years since 3-month-old Chris and Cru Kahui died, and everyone wishes for something approaching "justice".

But the coroner's report leaves too many unanswered questions for that.

What, for example, of the "historic" injuries suffered days and weeks before the twins were taken to hospital?

As Wishart points out in Breaking Silence, while there's absolutely no medical doubt that the twins suffered multiple rib fractures, which are often classic signs of child abuse, the implication is not as clear-cut.

"Scientific studies have shown that the bones of premature infants ... are often substantially weaker than a normal infant's. Another medical study found nearly eight per cent of infants presenting with rib fractures were not victims of abuse but in fact sufferers of 'bone fragility'."

It's possible, Wishart writes, that those earlier injuries were inflicted accidentally, by "someone compressing the baby into them, as if cuddling too hard".

But even if that were so, how could an attentive mother not have noticed her babies' cracked ribs?

Wishart cites the testimony of a perinatal pathologist who said that it was possible the cracked ribs would not have caused much discomfort in the infants, which "may be why none of the nurses on home visits or doctors picked up any hint of the injuries".

Indeed, the twins' GP had given baby Cru a "thorough" going over only the week before the fatal brain damage and detected nothing out of the ordinary.

Was Macsyna indifferent to her babies? Why, according to hospital staff, were her visits so infrequent when her babies were in the neo-natal unit?

She told Wishart her presence wasn't always seen or noted by staff: "Yes, I could have been there more often ... but here is the reality I faced. I had a 1-year-old who needed looking after at home.

"I had to train up my replacement at work. We were still in [Chris Kahui's father's Manurewa] cold and damp house, and we really needed to sort out the fresh accommodation [at the Mangere house] which was warmer and closer to the hospital."

Plus, they had no car, so had to cadge rides to the hospital. They also had no furniture. Before the twins went home, King (with no help from her partner) had to organise and collect a cot, furniture, beds and car seats with special gel inserts.

" I found it a real struggle, physically ..." She'd had a caesarean, remember, and twins.

It wasn't surprising that King's communication with hospital staff wasn't always cordial. She felt judged and disrespected.

Did that have a bearing on the fact that no one told her she was entitled to 200 hours of home help because she had newborn twins and an older child to look after? (My middle-class sister got that when she had her twins.)

"What a difference that piece of information could have made in those crucial first weeks of the twins' lives," writes Wishart.

Despite the lack of help, a Middlemore paediatrician noted that the twins had done really well after their discharge home, and obviously someone was looking after them.

A home-care nurse who visited and examined the babies when they were supposedly injured said the Kahuis seemed like "a good family", and the babies were "beautiful" and "growing appropriately". Another nurse noted Macsyna's "wonderful interaction" with the twins.

Not long before the twins' death, there was a family meeting to talk about Macsyna needing a break.

Would things have turned out differently if there'd been less judgment and more practical help? I think so.

- NZ Herald

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