Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Harm to boys incalculable: judge

Teacher who breached trust 'in most appalling fashion' over 13 years sentenced to preventive detention

Sex-offending teacher James Parker may spend the rest of his life in prison, but it's the 24 young boys subjected to his prolonged and depraved abuse who will serve the real life sentence for his crimes.

For the first time yesterday his victims spoke of the impact the abuse has had on them - their anger, guilt, shame, fear, frustration and the pain of remembering what Parker did to them.

They no longer trust people, relationships have broken down, they struggle to move forward with the memories of the sordid abuse constantly bearing down on them.

"The likelihood is that many of these victims will have the entire course of their young lives changed forever as they deal with the trauma arising from the betrayal and sexual abuse," said Alan Bell, director of anti-child sexual exploitation agency ECPAT Child Alert New Zealand. "The abuse was planned and orchestrated over a long period of time and even though some had knowledge of this, the victimisation continued.

"The abuse in this case was inflicted by someone who used the privileged position given to him as a teacher and he betrayed the trust and responsibilities vested in him. It was a betrayal of the worst kind."

Parker was sentenced to preventive detention yesterday, after earlier pleading guilty in the High Court at Whangarei to 74 charges representing at least 300 incidents of indecent acts, unlawful sexual connection and sexual violation between 1999 and 2012.

His case was described by the Crown as "without comparison in New Zealand history".

Justice Paul Heath said there were two types of people children were entitled to feel safe around - their family and school teachers.

"The trust reposed in you by the community in general was breached in the most appalling fashion," he said.

Crown prosecutor Michael Smith said the damage done to Parker's young victims was "incalculable".

"The sentence won't fix the harm," he said.

The court heard Parker had a strained relationship with his father while growing up in a strict Christian home. He recognised about 13 that he "liked boys" but suppressed his feelings because in his home homosexuality was an "abomination".

He was unable to establish and maintain "age-appropriate" relationships and targeted boys who were vulnerable to his sexual advances. He recognised many years ago that his sexual preferences were a problem, but never sought help.

The offending against his victims started with hugging, touching and "spooning" his victims, all boys from troubled homes or backgrounds, when they spent nights at his Kaitaia farm. They would sleep in the lounge together to watch TV after a day of quad biking or other activities that "magnetised" the boys to the property.

"After the lights were turned off, the sexual abuse would occur," said Justice Heath. "The victim impact statements are harrowing. The extent of the emotional harm you have brought about is difficult to comprehend ... reprehensible.

"Something that comes through very clearly from those who read their victim impact statements was a feeling that you had stolen the innocence of childhood for them. I had hoped that the reading of the statements would give you greater insight into the impact of your offending ... but when you were listening to the statements you did not even have the courtesy to look the victims in the eye. You simply sat there holding your head in your hands."

Complaints were made about Parker's behaviour towards young boys in 2009 and police investigated but charges were never laid. He was warned then to stay away from the boys, to stop having them overnight at his home and to keep himself safe.

Justice Heath said Parker had the opportunity then to come clean about what he had been doing but he chose not to.

"He did have a choice and he made the decision to continue to offend, and the offending escalated. Look at the people who might have been spared," he said.

"I believe there is information that indicates a tendency for you to commit similar offending in future. Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. The risk of you committing similar offending on release is significant."

Defence lawyer Alex Witten-Hannah said Parker was "committed and dedicated" to not offending again, and to getting the help he needed.

"Reading the victim impact statements has had a profound effect on James Parker. He has been and remains grief-stricken by what he was read of the impact of his offending."

Members of the victims' families wept as explicit details of the offending were discussed, and as their loved ones read their statements. The court heard that the small community was tight-knit, meaning many families included multiple victims.

- NZ Herald

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