Jared Savage is a senior reporter at the New Zealand Herald

Police officer investigated for locking teenage boy in cell

Inspector Hurimoana Dennis was stood down last September shortly after a complaint was laid by the teenage boy. Photo / Nick Reed
Inspector Hurimoana Dennis was stood down last September shortly after a complaint was laid by the teenage boy. Photo / Nick Reed

An attempt to end an under-age love affair has seen a senior police officer investigated for locking a teenage boy in a cell.

The 17-year-old agreed to move to Australia after the "mock arrest", designed to end his relationship with the 15-year-old girl, whom his family disapproved of.

But when the boy changed his mind and returned to New Zealand - with the help of the girl's family - the inspector arranged for police to escort him off the plane when he arrived at Auckland International Airport.

Those two episodes are the focus of an inquiry into the actions of Inspector Hurimoana Dennis, who could face criminal charges or an employment misconduct hearing. At least seven other police officers are also under investigation for their involvement.

Dennis, a strategic adviser in Maori affairs to the police hierarchy, made headlines this year as the chairman of Te Puea Marae in Mangere, which opened its doors to shelter families without a home.

The charitable work generated public goodwill but a political stoush began when a press secretary for Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett leaked information about Dennis being under police investigation. The minister denied this was a deliberate smear but apologised.

Dennis was stood down last September shortly after a complaint was laid by the teenage boy.

The Weekend Herald can today reveal that his friendship with an influential Maori family triggered the events leading to his suspension.

They disapproved of their 17-year-old grandson's relationship with a 15-year-old girl and turned to Dennis for advice. A complaint was laid with the police and the boy was formally warned about underage sex.

But the relationship did not end and Dennis arranged for the boy to return to the Auckland Central police station. He attended, with his parents, and was told he could be charged with a sex crime if he continued seeing the girl.

Living with family in Sydney was suggested as a solution, so the teenager agreed to move there - after being locked in a cell in the station.

The "mock arrest" arranged by Dennis was to show the risks and potential criminal consequences of underage sex, according to a source. But whether this could be considered unlawful detention is part of the police investigation.

Social media posts reveal the angst of the separated young couple.

"I can't handle this anymore ... it's f***ing hurting well I hope that family is f***ing happy," the 15-year-old girl wrote.

Her mother commented: "We love you our baby, we will get to the end of this, we will not give up I promise."

She arranged for the 17-year-old to fly back to New Zealand - against the wishes of his family who were unaware of his whereabouts. When they found out he was flying home, they called Dennis who alerted police officers at Auckland International Airport. This was to prevent a potential fracas between the warring families in the arrival lounge, according to a source close to Dennis.

Three police officers escorted the boy off the plane and took him to his family, who convinced him to go back to Australia. Again, the teenager returned to New Zealand and eventually laid a complaint with the police.

Now 18, the teen is living with his girlfriend, now 16, and her mother in a state house in Glen Innes.

The girl's mother said life had been "tough" and they had been waiting a "long time" for the police to announce the results of their inquiry.

"We want the truth to come out."

A spokesman for Police national headquarters and Dennis - who has been stood down for nearly 12 months - both declined to answer questions as the investigation is ongoing.

The family of the boy are "extremely supportive" of Dennis.

"We are quite bewildered by the actions of his colleagues," said the boy's grandfather.

"Huri has done nothing but try to help us, in a Tikanga Maori way, as a family. At the core of this is a clash of cultures."

- NZ Herald

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