Former residents of a home for troubled kids have launched a $500,000 lawsuit against the Government for claims of physical and sexual abuse.

Eleven former residents of The Glade in the inner Auckland suburb of Epsom say the abuse included being pinned to the ground for hours in a controversial "human straitjacket " restraint known as a "Michael Whiting Hold".

The hold was among "unconventional" teaching methods promoted at the time.

Drug-taking and sexual relationships between staff members and residents were common, the Herald on Sunday has been told.


The Glade was home to some children who went on to become criminals, most notoriously Antoine Dixon.

Dixon attacked Simonne Butler, Renee Gunbie and James Te Aute in a P-fuelled samurai sword rampage, before killing himself in prison.

Some children never left the home: they died either by committing suicide or in accidents while still living at The Glade.

The doors of the historic homestead were closed for the last time in the late 1990s and it was razed in a suspected arson in 2003.

Katharine Ross, from Wellington law firm Cooper Legal, said that former residents had approached her firm over a period of time.

"It's not a case of a bunch of seven mates coming to us and saying we want you to act for us," she said. "It's more a case of us joining the dots.

"It's not serious, serious sexual abuse but it's still enough to warrant a claim being brought. As far as I'm aware none of (the complainants) know each other."

A former supervisor - who is accused in court documents of committing sexual abuse - denied any wrongdoing.

He said staff at social welfare homes were easy targets for historic abuse cases.

"It seems to be the flavour of the day, a lot of that sort of thing is coming out of the woodwork."

Many of the staff members were university students with no formal training or qualifications, said former residents.

One, Donna Jamieson, said residents were subjected to systematic abuse. Jamieson fell pregnant at the age of 16 to another resident and was told: "You either have an abortion or get out."

"They made my life hell," she said. She recently moved to Australia and is not part of the court case, but said she had suffered ongoing emotional trauma as a result of her experiences at The Glade.

Father Felix Donnelly, the Catholic priest and former talkback host who founded the home, said he was surprised the historic abuse claims had been brought.

Now aged 83, Donnelly said he was familiar with the Michael Whiting Hold but had never used it himself.

"We had to restrain children at times to preserve furniture and people. They went wild. I personally never laid hands on people but some of the staff would have."

Donnelly said he remembered allegations of abuse at the time - but they were investigated and discounted.

"I would question the validity of the claims because I was always open to speaking to them. We were very careful with anything of the nature of what you are discussing. This is a worry."

Ministry of Social Development historic claims chief analyst Garth Young said The Glade was run by Youthlink although the ministry did place young people in Youthlink homes.

"Accordingly, we have an obligation to investigate these claims, which we are doing."

The ministry has received 1,229 historic claims between 2004 and the end of August this year. It has paid out $6 million to 297 people who were in a range of residences and private care.

Hold was 'very degrading'

Vanessa, 38, says she was put in a Michael Whiting Hold for hours by a resident of The Glade.

"One time, they brought a boy I had a crush on to watch them do this to me. All staff members and my parents sat around in a semicircle ... They were silently communicating with each other through paper and pen.

"Afterwards, to reconnect and calm you down, they would stroke you like a light massage. This caused more anxiety for me rather than calming me and then they put me in the hold again.

"I was held like this twice, possibly three times, in my stay there ... One time I had returned from school and they Michael Whited me in my uniform. I was screaming for them to at least let me change from my skirt as the hold involved having your legs apart. They wouldn't let me.

"It was not of a sexual nature but very degrading ... I fought and screamed so much that I burst a blood vessel in my eye.

"I also managed to free myself and I escaped down the stairs, slamming a door ... I was returned to the room, where they continued. I was told that this punishment was rarely used on girls."