Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Calls for Sir Owen to exit inquiry

Some think-tank members say founder's departure only way for family violence inquiry to have future.

Sir Owen Glenn has withdrawn his application to be an ambassador for the White Ribbon Campaign. Photo / Dean Purcell
Sir Owen Glenn has withdrawn his application to be an ambassador for the White Ribbon Campaign. Photo / Dean Purcell

Members of an expert think-tank set up to guide Sir Owen Glenn's $2 million inquiry into family violence say the only way for the inquiry to continue now would be for Sir Owen to step out of the process.

At least 14 of the 25 original NZ-based think-tank members have now quit following a report on Sunday that Sir Owen was accused of physically abusing a young woman in Hawaii in 2002.

Sir Owen was reported to have entered a plea of "no contest", meaning that he neither admitted nor contested the charge, and said there was "no truth to the allegation".

But some think-tank members said his failure to disclose it had destroyed the credibility of an inquiry that aimed to produce an independent "blueprint" to tackle New Zealand's appalling record of child abuse and domestic violence.

"It's made the credibility of anything coming out of the inquiry pretty much irreversible. You can't get that kind of credibility back," said veteran anti-violence advocate Kirimatao Paipa.

"If he [Sir Owen] takes his name off it and leaves his money ... then maybe we can salvage something out of this."

Canterbury University's Te Awatea Violence Research Centre director Dr Annabel Taylor said the only way to salvage the inquiry might be to hand it over to a research centre such as hers.

Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie and human rights campaigner Marama Davidson said Sir Owen and the former Supreme Court judge who now chairs the inquiry's governance board, Bill Wilson, should go.

"If the inquiry has any future, changing the name and board membership is required. Sir Owen and Bill Wilson will need to give up their places on the board ..."

Mr Caddie said: "Think-tank members had concerns with the appointment process for the new board and have not been impressed with Bill Wilson's handling of the issues that have arisen. I think we would need someone like Kim Workman or Dame Cath Tizard to assume the chair."

Former Governor-General Dame Cath said she had agreed to remain the inquiry's patron until the next board meeting.

"They have a board meeting next week to which I have been invited. I think it would be useful if I attended that, we could make sure that we all have the same story, then I'll make my decision," she said.

She said she had received letters from people urging her to resign.

The meltdown started in May when founding director Ruth Herbert resigned over concerns about ensuring the safety of survivors of violence who were willing to tell their stories.

Five think-tank members quit soon afterwards, followed by nine more this week.

Women's Refuge chief executive Heather Henare, who is reviewing safety procedures with think-tank member Kim Workman, said the Hawaii case did not alter her decision to continue. "I agreed to be involved in this inquiry because of the voices of women and children who have spoken to the Glenn inquiry and to ensure that information already collected is secured and will inform how we, as a country, deal with family violence," she said.

Inquiry chief executive Kirsten Rei said the inquiry would continue.

Sir Owen has withdrawn his application to be an ambassador for the White Ribbon Campaign against domestic violence but reiterated that he is living violence-free and that he has no history of violence towards women or children.

- NZ Herald

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