Paul Holmes on New Zealand

Paul Holmes is an award-winning Herald columnist

Paul Holmes: NZ children deserve better from courts

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Leaving five frightened children for hours in a car is an outrage

The judge in the Christie Marceau (above) case should never have let her killer out, writes Paul Holmes. Photo / File
The judge in the Christie Marceau (above) case should never have let her killer out, writes Paul Holmes. Photo / File

As a kid, I spent a bit of time in a car waiting for a drunk. Neither of my parents, I hasten to add.

Nevertheless, my parents, out of the goodness of their hearts, continued to offer support to a hopeless, bludging, self-pitying, narcissistic alcoholic war-mate of my father's long after they should have ditched him.

Both my brother and I hated this man then and I, at least, hate him still, be he alive or dead.

He might be the only person I have ever hated. And I know hate is a pointless emotion, but there you are. When he staggered out of the Clive pub, say, I had to drive him home. I had no licence and had a child's terror of being stopped by the police.

One afternoon when I came home from school, Mum and Dad both at work, I found him standing in our lavatory, leaning back on his swaying bow legs sucking the dregs from yet another flask of brandy. I was 14.

I convinced him to drive with me into town to see the doctor. I waited in the car. And I waited.

It was about three hours before Mum and Dad came and found me, sitting scared in the car.

The doctor had committed my passenger to an asylum in an ambulance and the drunk hadn't thought to let the doctor know there was a young boy outside frightened to drive home.

My childhood experiences may be why the story of the woman who left her children in a car while she went off gambling struck such a chord this week.

The woman and her criminal boyfriend went off to the casino one morning for some drinking and gambling. She and the partner parked the van, left the kids in it and headed upstairs for a couple of hours boozing and gambling - during the morning.

The woman came down once to check on the kids and stayed with them a minute.

This is five children we're talking about, the oldest being a fragile little 9-year-old with the others down to 11 months. Left in a van. They were found only because a couple of people heard hysterical crying.

The parents were charged with leaving a child without reasonable supervision but, after pleading guilty, the woman was discharged without conviction.

She told the judge she wanted to be a social worker one day. If that is what swung the day for a lenient sentence, then it's a worry. The judge in this case was one Grant Fraser, Auckland District Court. Sorry, but on the face of it that sentence is unacceptable. What the mother did was reprehensible. She needed a sentence that befitted the action.

Has the judge not paid attention to the will of the Government lately, that a much harder line be taken against adults who abuse children, those who neglect them and mistreat them, and those who don't deserve them and who, having them, should not be allowed to keep them?

The woman possibly averted serious sanction against herself by booking herself in for a bit of counselling. Heaven knows she needs it.

The woman is obviously hopelessly unqualified to be looking after these children. Hers is exactly the kind of behaviour that Paula Bennett, in her White Paper, will no longer accept. It is time someone stood up and said this woman's behaviour is not going to be tolerated, certainly not with sentences like discharged without conviction.

Leaving kids in a car like that? Take those kids off her. And perhaps someone could ask Judge Fraser to wake up and sentence people like her to something they'll notice.

This decision came just a week after the uproar over the Christie Marceau judge who made the decision regarding bail for Akshay Chand. He will carry forever some of the responsibility for the knife killing of that beautiful girl.

The legal establishment has rushed to defend the decision of Judge David McNaughton who, despite the pleas of the police and of the victim begging him not to do so, let Chand go home on bail rather than retain him in custody.

This young man had already kidnapped Christie, held her at knifepoint and made her undress. I cannot imagine what was so difficult about McNaughton's decision.

No wonder her parents feel robbed.

- NZ Herald

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