Acquitted carers still labelled 'abusers'

By Jimmy Ellingham

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

Two former Child, Youth and Family caregivers acquitted of assaulting boys in their care say they hold no grudges but are disappointed CYF still labels them as abusers.

Auckland couple Andrew John Hemara, 55, and Jenny-Lee Hemara, 51, were found not-guilty this week on charges of assaulting and ill-treating two boys, aged between 6 and 14, over a six-year period until 2010.

Many of the worst allegations against the couple, including that they made the two boys brush their teeth with a wire brush and run until they vomited, were dropped after the boys recanted key evidence.

But they were still accused of punching and kicking the boys and making one sleep outside with no bedding.

Soon after the verdicts were delivered in the Auckland District Court, CYF regional director Sharon Thom said: "While they were found not guilty of criminal charges in court, our own investigations into abuse were substantiated''.

Ms Thom said the use of physical force to discipline was never acceptable and the Hemeras would not be allowed to foster more children.

Mr Hemara, who was also found not-guilty of assaulting another boy when he briefly stayed with the couple, told APNZ today he thought Ms Thom's comments ran in opposition to the justice system's findings.

He and his wife were relieved with the jury's verdicts, which came three years after initial charges were laid.

"It's a burden being taken off us. I've got nothing against the young ones, I wish them well and I think they will do good where-ever they go and I'm still disappointed that CYF are standing by what they believe,'' Mr Hemara said.

The couple looked after about 50 children over their decade as CYF carers and Mr Hemara said they never resorted to violence.

They were trained to look after high-risk children so had strategies to deal with unruly behaviour.

Throughout their trial the public gallery was full of supporters and many people they had looked after remained in touch, he said.

"We still have contact with the older ones... some of them are parents. They still call us aunty and uncle. You could say that we are the foster grandparents to their kids.''

Now the Hemaras would concentrate on supporting other caregivers, who Mr Hemara said were not protected when made up allegations were levelled against them.

"As soon as a young person makes an allegation the focus goes on them and the focus is lost from the caregiver. You can see what happened to us.''

Charges against the couple's daughter Tamara Lee Hemara were dropped part-way through the trial.

- APNZ

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