Editorial: Under age sex scandal reflects badly on all parties

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Joseph Lavell Parker (right) and Beraiah Hales.
Joseph Lavell Parker (right) and Beraiah Hales.

Absolutely nobody emerges well from the Roast Busters under-age sex scandal. Not, most importantly of all, the four traumatised 13 to 15-year-old girls who have been identified as victims. Not the reviled young predators who bragged about getting girls drunk and having sex with them. Not the police who now face uncomfortable questions about their attitude to crimes of this nature, as well as their operational efficiency. And not the grandstanding politicians who clambered over each other to refer the handling of the case to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

Much of the attention has, quite rightly, focused on the police. In the first instance, there was clearly a lamentable communication breakdown over the formal complaint made two years ago by one of the four girls who spoke to the police. For several days, Detective Inspector Bruce Scott insisted no such complaint had been made and that the police's hands were, therefore, tied.

This view was later reiterated by the Waitemata district commander, Superintendent Bill Searle, only for him later to say that when first briefed on the investigation, he was told no original complaint had been laid.

Given the Roast Busters' alleged behaviour, it seems extraordinary that this incorrect information could have found its way up the command chain. That, in turn, raises questions about how seriously the girls' claims were treated.

Of further concern is the complainant's view that the police's line of questioning had focused on irrelevancies such as the clothes she was wearing and why she had chosen to go out with the group.

In a damning 2007 report, Dame Margaret Bazley talked of the need for changes in the police's attitude and behaviour, not least the eradication of a culture of scepticism when dealing with complaints of sexual assault. She was not, however, convinced that the force could sustain the necessary impetus to change its culture. Resistance could be expected from some old-school senior staff. The handling of the Roast Busters can only suggest her misgivings about the commitment to change were well founded.

It may be, as the police suggest, that even with a formal complaint, there might not have been enough evidence to take the case to court. The group's boasting on its Facebook page does not necessarily represent conclusive proof. But the serious nature of the activity - the formal complaint, after all, came from a 13-year-old - should have meant that even if charges could not be laid, the police should have intervened in some way. This could have involved a clear warning to the group's members, a watch being kept on them, or the publicising of their activity, so that parents would be alerted and young women could take steps to ensure their safety. As events transpired, it fell to the media to give the Roast Busters' victims the attention they deserve.

Politicians were unable to resist the temptation to become involved. When it suits them, they are quick to note that they cannot interfere in police operations. That was not going to stop them on this occasion. Nor was the fact that the Independent Police Conduct Authority was set up as a recourse for victims. First, Labour's police spokeswoman, Jacinda Ardern, proclaimed her party would lay a complaint with the authority over the handling of the girl's complaint. Then, citing the need for the public to have confidence in the police, the Police Minister, Anne Tolley, followed suit.

That confidence cannot but have been badly dented. Electing effectively to monitor the situation was a totally unacceptable way to address the serious criminal offences alleged by under-age girls. Both the 13-year-old, the other victims and the public deserved far, far better.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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