Matt Nippert is a business investigations journalist.

Boot-camp abuse claims due to be heard

An aerial view of Medlands Beach (right) and Kaitoke Beach (upper left) on Great Barrier Island. Photo / Kenny Rodger
An aerial view of Medlands Beach (right) and Kaitoke Beach (upper left) on Great Barrier Island. Photo / Kenny Rodger

Former residents of an infamous state-run boot camp on Great Barrier Island compared to Lord of the Flies will get their day in court more than a decade after complaints were first made of maltreatment and abuse.

The High Court at Wellington will next year hear claims brought by "Mr Y" against the government that he suffered unlawful detention, repeated physical and sexual abuse from staff including sodomy, and breaches of the Bill of Rights Act at the isolated Whakapakari programme during a stay in 1999.

The name of the plaintiff, who was aged just 16 at the time of the alleged abuse, is suppressed.

Whakapakari was used from the 1980s until its sudden closure in 2004 by the agency then known as Child, Youth and Family, as a character-building retreat for wards of the state and by the justice system as a final option before terms of imprisonment were imposed on young people.

The claim is being defended by the government, with a spokeswoman for the Ministry for Social Development citing long-running court processes as a reason to not elaborate further.

The claim by "Mr Y" was first filed with the courts in 2006.

Sonja Cooper, the principal of Cooper Law representing representing "Mr Y," said the claim was intended to test matters of fact and responsibility in the court and she had claims by another 50 former Whakapakari residents waiting in the wings on the court ruling.

Ms Cooper said part of the government's defence involved disavowing any responsibility for any actions undertaken by independent contractors, despite receiving years of warnings and complaints.

Last year Whakapakari was the subject of a Weekend Herald investigation that found complaints in 1998 about four boys claiming to have been subjected to mock executions, including being forced at gunpoint to dig what they were told would be their own graves, were mishandled by government overseers.

A review of the case by the Commissioner for Children found serious holes in the official version of events.

"Mr Y" is not one of the four boys but his claims of sexual abuse by staff, management-sanctioned pack beatings by other residents, and unsupervised exile with no shelter and minimal food are similar to experiences of more than a dozen residents spoken to by the Weekend Herald.

- NZ Herald

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