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Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Mellory Manning: Girl lost to the streets tried to find way out

Elder sister Jasmine's suicide triggered a change of mindset for murder victim who joined a methadone programme to get off drugs and had turned her back on prostitution for months before her death.

Mellory Manning, left, left school at the age of 14, here pictured with her sister Jasmine.
Mellory Manning, left, left school at the age of 14, here pictured with her sister Jasmine.

Ngatai "Mellory" Manning had vowed to go straight and clean up her life just weeks before she was brutally raped and murdered, her sole surviving sibling says.

The Christchurch sex worker, who died in December 2008 aged 27, had been profoundly affected by elder sister Jasmine's suicide only months earlier.

"I don't want to end up like that," she told brother Rob soon afterwards.

Ms Manning had been a hard drug user and prostitute since her early teens. But true to her word, she joined a methadone programme, inquired about studying art at polytechnic, moved in with her mum and largely turned her back on the streets.

Her long-time boyfriend and minder, Kent Gorrie, later told police they were planning to have a baby.

"We were going to straighten our lives up."

But after months out of prostitution, on the night of December 18, 2008, she was back on the streets - trying to raise money to buy Christmas presents for her family.

It was meant to be her last night on the job. Instead it was the last night of her life.

"She was trying to get some cash together for Christmas presents," said Rob Manning, manager of a successful car dealership in Christchurch.

"That makes it even sadder ... to do things just for that. But that was the kind of girl she was."

After a four-week trial in the High Court at Christchurch, Mongrel Mob prospect Mauha Huataki Fawcett, 26, was yesterday found guilty of murdering Ms Manning.


A jury of six men and six women delivered their unanimous verdict after almost six hours of deliberations over two days to gasps of "yes" from the packed public gallery.

According to the Crown, Fawcett, then a 21-year-old Mongrel Mob prospect, took part in, or was party to Ms Manning's murder to earn his gang patch.

The Mob had muscled in on Christchurch's red light district during her time off the streets.

Gangsters including Fawcett were using standover tactics and enforcing a $20 "tax" on each of the working girls' transactions.

Mr Manning, 31, said that although things had changed in her absence, Ms Manning was a fiery character who never took a backwards step and wasn't about to hand her hard-earned cash to the Mob.

"She was trying to get off the streets, she hadn't worked for ages. But that night, she went to the place where she used to work, and they were all like, 'Who are you?' It was all different.

"She was feisty, didn't put up with too much s*** from people - not that that's always a good thing ...

"Ngatai had done some stuff in her life, but she wasn't born like that. She was just a normal kid, but grew up without, perhaps, the best start in life.

"She made her own decisions and she decided to do what she did and unfortunately she paid the ultimate price. What she did was a risky job."

Ngatai, known to her friends as Mel or Mellory, was born in Nelson on Waitangi Day 1981 to parents Sharon and Pierre.

Pierre left early in the kids' lives and had little to do with them, Mr Manning said.

"We were not brought up very well. The stepfather at the time - not the stepfather now - was really horrible. That probably didn't help the whole course of life's tracks."

Mellory Manning started working as a prostitute aged 15.
Mellory Manning started working as a prostitute aged 15.

The family moved to Canterbury and the children went to Southbridge Primary and Ellesmere College.

The kids stuck together and Ngatai was the strongest character, often standing up for her siblings.

"That unity of all three of us going through the same stuff made us very close," Mr Manning said.

Ms Manning and her brother often visited the tiny West Coast town of Granity to stay with their grandparents, who were a "great positive influence" on their lives.

She left school aged 14 after ending up in foster care because "she was playing up", Mr Manning said.

Around that time she began taking drugs. She started working as a prostitute aged 15.

In 1999, she was jailed for 18 months after stabbing a shop assistant with a blood-filled syringe during a robbery.

She and Mr Gorrie were well known to police and both served several stints behind bars.

However, Mr Gorrie's 70-year-old mother Francis knew Ngatai for about 10 years and saw a different side of her.

"At the beginning I didn't actually know she was a working girl. I knew she had been in trouble. I had visited her in jail," she said.

"She was actually quite an intelligent girl, but had led quite a rough life early on. She had a very sad upbringing. Some of the things she told me were really quite deflating. I felt really sorry for her.

"She was a respectful girl who had a very nice nature. She and Kent acted very respectfully around me."

But Jasmine Manning's death triggered a change in her mindset.

The elder sister, who "ran in similar circles" to Ms Manning, had lost contact with her siblings by the time she died in July 2008 aged 29 while in witness protection in Auckland.

The death hit the surviving siblings hard.

"At Jasmine's funeral, I was standing there with Ngatai who was really upset, and she said to me, 'It was always just us'," Mr Manning said.

"Jasmine's death really scared her into turning her life around. Seriously it did. She said to me, 'I don't want to end up like this'. She went on the methadone programme. When they did the autopsy, they only found methadone and cannabis - no heroin."

Mr Manning said he was "absolutely ecstatic" at the guilty verdict but while the police investigation remained open it was just the first step.

Mellory Manning, left, left school at the age of 14, here pictured with her sister Jasmine.
Mellory Manning, left, left school at the age of 14, here pictured with her sister Jasmine.

He and his mother Sharon sat through much of the evidence and admitted some had been hard to hear.

"Even in the most gruesome movies, there's nothing like the injuries she sustained," he said.

The Christchurch co-ordinator of the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective, Anna Reed, said Ms Manning's murder had a profound effect on other working girls.

The case prompted some to give up prostitution and paved the way for safety measures to protect those who stayed on the streets.

"I can't praise the police work highly enough on this case," she said. "For those of us who were in that trial, the detail was incredible."

Mr Manning agrees - particularly considering how hard it was getting gangsters and prostitutes to talk.

"I think the police have done an amazing job, considering no one would speak, no one would say a word."

Fawcett will be sentenced in May and serve at least 10 years in jail.

Mr Manning dismissed any sympathy for the Mob prospect known as Muck Dog and said he deserves all he gets.

"Possibly the system has let him down ... but that doesn't mean everyone has the right to go out and murder someone.

"You could say the system let me and my sisters down as well, but it's all relative to what you make it. If you sit and blame everyone else, well, people who blame everyone don't get very far in life, do they."

- APNZ

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