By SIMON COLLINS

Will the horrific death of James Whakaruru finally galvanise us into living less violently, and intervening to stop violence when we suspect it?

Those are the questions being asked by remorseful doctors, social workers, police and probation officers after this week's damning report on James' death by the Commissioner for Children, Roger McClay.

None of those who saw James during his brief life of just under five years feels comfortable, in retrospect, with the way they collectively failed to do anything to save him.

"It has certainly opened my eyes," says urologist Dr Kim Broome, who gave James an emergency circumcision when his mother brought him in with a torn penis in May 1998, aged almost 4.

At the time, Dr Broome says, he accepted the mother's explanation that "he was playing with some of the other boys and it somehow got cut."

He has now decided to refer any child with a genital injury to Hawkes Bay Hospital's paediatric non-accidental injury team to check for child abuse.

Mike Doolan, chief social worker for the Department of Child, Youth and Family, says he is just astounded by the number of times just about every agency that came into contact with James failed to carry out checks that were legally required.

"We couldn't have designed a scenario that had that many corporate failures."

Each agency is now committing itself to make most of the changes that Mr McClay recommends.

But the doctors and welfare agencies are just those who bind up the wounds after people get hurt.

The bigger questions raised by James' death are: Why do so many of us turn to violence so easily? And when the rest of us suspect that someone is getting beaten up, why are we so reluctant to intervene?

We pride ourselves on living in "a good place to bring up children." Yet our child-death rate is one of the highest in the developed world.

The family of Benny Haerewa, James' stepfather, who was jailed for 12 years for killing him, seem hardworking and caring.

Benny's father, Matt, often works seven days a week in a Hawkes Bay orchard. His mother, Violet, looks after the children of Benny's brother, Joffrey, until Joffrey and his wife, Krishna, get home from work.

Suzie Whakaruru, mother of James' mother Te Rangi, is a devout Jehovah's Witness and sometimes joins church groups that go "witnessing" on Hastings doorsteps offering salvation.

Yet while in Benny and Te Rangi's care, young James suffered a series of injuries which culminated in the beating that left him dead in April 1999. What went wrong?

Te Rangi had slit her wrists 10 days before James was born in 1994. She was 15. Her partner at the time, James' father, Kevin Campus, says they had just broken up. "I told her, 'F... off!'"

At first she stayed with an uncle, then with her mother, then for a while back with the Campus family, although her relationship with Kevin was testy.

Then Kevin was jailed for stealing cars.

"I have spent the past 20 years in prison," he says, exaggerating.

Kevin's mother, Rebecca, works in shearing sheds, but Kevin is unemployed. "I don't work. Work sucks. I'd rather be a movie star."

Kevin Campus is living with his partner, their son and his mother in the family home in Hastings. He thinks it is a good thing that child abusers get a rough time in prison and predicts that Benny Haerewa "will hang himself before his time is up."

Kevin was in jail when Te Rangi started going out with Benny Haerewa around the time of James' first birthday in June 1995.

The Haerewas say they welcomed Te Rangi.

"She called me 'Dad'," says Matt Haerewa. Adds Violet: "We loved her, gave her love. That boy, we loved him more."

Even when Benny, Te Rangi and James shifted to southern Hawkes Bay in 1997, and later to Havelock North, they came back for the weekly Friday night knees-ups which the Haerewas hosted.

The Haerewas saw "a couple of bruises on his jaw" when Te Rangi and Benny said James had "fallen off his bike."

Another time he had a cut lip. "He was supposed to have fallen down the stairs."

When his penis was torn, "we were told he fell off his bike."

"I didn't know what to say," Matt Haerewa says. "They were into drugs." But "there was no serious injury to the boy that showed us to get involved."

Benny was doing haybaling and other intermittent farm work.

"When they were not working, money was hard," says Krishna. "Rent was fairly dear and they had a car to pay off."

The medical record assembled by the Commissioner for Children shows that James' injuries had started by at least October 1995, when he was treated for a cut lip at just 16 months old.

In July 1996, he was taken to hospital with bruises on much of his body. Benny Haerewa spent four months in jail for this incident.

Te Rangi Whakaruru told the police, in a video screened in court after James died, that James only received "normal discipline."

On March 20 last year, she said, she got out the vacuum cleaner pipe "to give him a hiding" for going down the road to play while she was asleep. James moved, and the sharp end of the pipe cut deeply into his lip. She told Havelock North GP Dr Maurice Jolly, who stitched up the lip, that it happened when James stood on the vacuum pipe and it sprang up and hit him.

Two weeks later James was dead, bruised again on almost every part of his body. Joffrey and Krishna's daughter, Samantha, then aged 7, said in a videoed interview with social worker Barbara Beeby that she saw Te Rangi hit James with a hammer and later throw it at his head.

According to the video transcript, Samantha said: "We were supposed to go outside but James said, 'Shut up,' to his dad. He had to stay inside and watch TV."

According to Te Rangi's later evidence in court, James had refused to call Benny "Daddy." Benny punched and kicked him, and hit him with a hammer, electric jug cord and the vacuum cleaner pipe.

The next day, Te Rangi told the court, James would not talk to Benny. Benny got so angry that he smashed a glass table, then hit James with a piece of wood. Te Rangi went out for 45 minutes, and when she came back James was struggling to breathe. They took him to hospital, where he died two hours later.

Russell Fairbrother, a lawyer called in by the Haerewas that night, says Benny was honest about what he had done and "absolutely distraught."

"He was not callous. He genuinely didn't believe that what he had done would kill the child."

Mr Fairbrother says the case reflects a "culture of violence."

"You are in an environment where to get obedience, you punish physically. He [Benny] would come home from work and be told the boy needed to be punished because he had been naughty during the day."

Mr Fairbrother says that when the All Blacks lose a game, the same people who sneer at Benny Haerewa say the team need an "eye-gouger." Police and social workers failed to intervene to save James because they saw physical punishment as "normal."

Gordon Paku, social services coordinator for the Hawkes Bay Maori Executive, says everything from Donald Duck comics to George Speight's Fiji coup teaches young people that force is okay.

The immediate trigger that can turn frustration into violence is often trivial, but the root cause is deeper.

"A lot of it boils down to failure, and shame regarding other members of the family. If everyone else at the pub is talking about how well their kids are doing, and you know your own child is just getting into trouble, then when that kid isn't home and should be, all of a sudden, boom, you explode."

Dr Patrick Kelly, who heads the Paediatrics Society child abuse committee, says physical violence towards children is associated with "living in stressful situations," including poverty and deprivation.

That is considered at least part of the reason Maori make up 42 per cent of abused children, compared with only 21 per cent of all children in the population.

Beth Wood, of Epoch, a group campaigning against corporal punishment, says adults learn to hit their children from being hit by their own parents. Breaking that cycle means teaching non-violent parenting.

But whatever method we try to reduce violence requires support from outside the immediate nuclear family. So why did no one help James Whakaruru's family?

Mr McClay's report revealed an extraordinarily loose approach by state agencies. When Benny Haerewa was caught the first time for beating James in 1996, no one told CYFS when he was on bail or when he was released from jail.

When Benny failed to report for probation on time, the Probation Service took no enforcement action. Less than halfway through the six-month probation period, the Probation Service let him stop attending, and did not check whther he was back living with Te Rangi and James, breaching the conditions of his sentence.

CYFS failed to follow its rules, which required consulting a Care and Protection Resource Panel and calling a family group conference. Instead, three social workers first suggested that Suzie Whakaruru should seek custody of James, then accepted that he could go back to Te Rangi because she said she and Benny had split up.

Hastings Probation Service manager Kevin Lloyd says: "Certainly we have taken that criticism on board. We'll obviously monitor that sort of thing more strongly."

Mr Doolan, CYFS' chief social worker, says he is trying to ensure the rules are followed, partly by centralising all calls to CYFS offices in an Auckland-based call centre where 30 social workers will handle all calls about possible child abuse.

There will be a toll-free number, 0508 FAMILY, and publicity to encourage anyone who suspects child abuse to ring, even if only to talk matters through with a social worker.

This will be aimed particularly at general practitioners because Mr Doolan is concerned that they notify less than 1 per cent of all child abuse cases.

GPs saw James Whakaruru at least 30 times, but none told CYFS about his injuries because he went to at least six different doctors, and probably many more.

Dr Paddy Twigg, of the Paradigm group serving two-thirds of Hawkes Bay GPs, deplores this fragmentation and advocates the British system of "capitation," where state subsidies are based on each patient registering with a specific doctor. People are still free to change doctors, but their files go with them so no doctor has to treat them in a vacuum, except in an emergency. This system is encouraged in the Government's new primary care strategy.

The McClay report also recommends "consideration" of mandatory reporting, which would make it illegal not to report any suspected case of child abuse.

Social Services Minister Steve Maharey says overseas experience is that this merely increases the number of notifications without reducing the incidence of abuse.

But Dr Kelly says mandatory reporting is already in force in public hospitals, at least in Auckland, and helps doctors to resist pressure from families not to notify suspected abuses.

Who saw James and his family

1994

June 13: Midwife - delivered James; visited him for some weeks.

Aug 2: Hastings GP Dr Colin Jones - eye infection, fever.

Aug 9: Dr Jones - ear infection, runny nose.

Aug 17: Plunket nurse - first saw James after six unsuccessful home visits. Two different nurses saw him later at clinics, then tried three more unsuccessful home visits.

Sept 14: Dr Jones - vaccination.

Dec 5: Dr Jones - vaccination, runny nose.

1995

Feb 22: Dr Jones - skin rash, ear infection.

May 2: Hawkes Bay Hospital - admitted with pneumonia.

May 18: Dr Jones - runny nose.

July 21: Dr Jones - common cold.

Sept 19: Dr Jones - night-time cough, nose congested, ear infection.

Oct 4: Dr Theodore Dorfling at Hastings cut-rate surgery 'The Doctors' - cut upper lip.

Oct 7: Unidentified doctor at The Doctors - head injury, injured nose, cut lip.

Dec 27: Police - called to Te Rangi's address after she was assaulted by Ben Haerewa. Ben not present but James was. No formal complaint by Te Rangi. No further action taken.

Dec 30: Unidentified doctor at The Doctors - fevers, painful legs, secondary infection in lip.

1996

Jan 1: Dr Dorfling at The Doctors - cut lower lip, throat infection.

March 16: Unidentified doctor at The Doctors - tonsillitis.

May 21: Unidentified doctor at the Doctors - runny nose.

June 29: Dr Hannes Meyer at The Doctors - runny nose.

July 18: Hawkes Bay Hospital - admitted with bruises on his forehead, jaw, neck, back of head, tops of feet, left upper arm, both shins, left rib cage, left thigh. Hospital notified police.

July 19: Police referred case to Child, Youth & Family Services (CYFS).

July 23: District Court - Ben Haerewa charged with injuring with intent; bailed on conditions of no contact with James, no access to Te Rangi's home and must live with his parents.

July 24: CYFS social worker - visited James at home of Te Rangi's parents, Suzie & Enoka Whakaruru; advised Whakarurus to seek interim custody order for James.

Aug 2: Unidentified doctor at The Doctors - runny nose.

Aug 7: New doctor referred to as 'GP3' - "beaten by mother's boyfriend, no obvious damage, police involved."

Aug 13: Police - found Ben & James at Te Rangi's home; returned James to Suzie & Enoka.

Sept 3: GP3 - night time cough, tonsils enlarged.

Sept 12: GP3 - lower back burnt by heater.

Sept 16: GP3 - "good".

Oct 17: District Court - Ben pleaded guilty to injuring with intent; sentenced on Nov 8 to 9 months' jail plus 6 months' probation on condition that he take an anger management course & counselling.

Oct 31: Family Court - appointed Hastings lawyer Dougal Matheson as Counsel for Child in custody dispute between Te Rangi & her parents.

Nov 11: CYFS social worker - met Suzie Whakaruru.

Nov 19: GP3 - pain in left knee, refusing to get up occasionally, noted James behaving positively instead of being scared.

Dec 9: GP3 - ear infection.

1997

Feb 11: Hawkes Bay Hospital - cut chin.

Feb 27: GP3 - vaccination.

March 1: Unidentified doctor at The Doctors - penis infection.

March 3: Ben Haerewa released from jail; Dougal Matheson sought & was granted protection order for James against Ben. Family Court asked CYFS to monitor James' safety at least weekly & to report by April 8.

March 11: Probation Service - Ben reported, five days late.

March 21: Harry Mills, Phoenix anger management course - Ben attended one day; later returned & completed course on May 23.

March 12: Dr Jones' locum - ear check, OK.

April 7: Family Court - CYFS reported no concern for James as Te Rangi said she & Ben had broken up.

April 11: GP3 - vaccination.

April 21: Family Court - granted custody of James to Te Rangi, with additional guardianship to Suzie Whakaruru.

May 30: GP3 - vaccination.

1998

May 9: Hawkes Bay Hospital - urologist Kim Broome carried out emergency circumcision after James came in with torn penis.

1999

March 20: Havelock North GP Dr Maurice Jolly - stitched up deep cut above upper lip.

March 21 and March 25: Dr Jolly - checked lip was OK.

April 4: Hawkes Bay Hospital - died 2 hours after admission with bruises to face, mouth, limbs, chest, abdomen, back & buttocks, cuts on right ear & lips, tearing marks on throat, faecally incontinent.

Herald Online feature: violence at home