A top Ministry of Social Development official cannot say why information held about a known sex offender who worked at a boys' home in the 1970s was withheld from one of his victims.
The error was just one example of how poor record-keeping affected survivors in pursuing their claims, some which dragged on for over a decade and caused further trauma.
Another example, discussed at the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry hearing into state redress processes, involved the records of 22 out of 28 staff alleged to have been involved in an abuse claim mysteriously destroyed.
Keith Wiffin was sexually assaulted by house master Alan Moncreif-Wright at Epuni Boys' Home in Lower Hutt in the early 1970s, aged 11.
He spent many painful years battling the Ministry to have his story heard and believed, despite the Ministry being aware of other accusations and even convictions against Moncreif-Wright from Epuni.
Soon after launching his claim, in November 2007 Wiffin, through his counsel Cooper Legal, sought all information held by the Ministry about Moncreif-Wright.
Despite the Ministry being advised by Crown Law about Moncreif-Wright's prior convictions for sex offences at Epuni, those were not disclosed to Wiffin.
MSD's historic claims team lead Garth Young, who dealt with Wiffin's case at the time, said he could not explain why that information was withheld.
"I accept it may appear I or the Ministry was not wanting to disclose that fact, but that was certainly not my intention."
He had "no clear recall" about responding to the information request, and there were "no helpful file notes".
"We had the information about the convictions sent to us from Crown Law prior, I don't recall the date, but whether that information had been placed in the file for Moncreif-Wright, I can't say.
"I personally had not intended to withhold information, which we had and should have released. I certainly apologise for that fact."
Moncreif-Wright was eventually jailed on multiple charges of sexual assault, including that against Wiffin. He has since died.
In September, when survivors were presenting their evidence, Wiffin said he believed Moncreif-Wright had abused other boys at Hamilton Boys' Home, where he'd been prior to Epuni.
Young confirmed Moncreif-Wright had been at the Hamilton institution for 18 months prior to Epuni, but said there were no records of offending, nor any reasons given for him having been moved on.
Young also presented evidence to the commission, which is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into abuse in state and faith-based care between 1950 and 1999, around the state's practices in the case of Earl White (not his real name).
White was physically abused at Epuni Boys Home and later sexually abused by a cook while in state care at Hokio Beach School in the 1970s.
His was one of the first major claims, ending up in the High Court, where while the judge accepted the abuse occurred, he lost due to the Crown claiming the statute of limitations defence, which means claimants needed to lodge a claim within six years of turning 20.
During the case, MSD hired a private investigator to gather evidence. They approached White's sister and daughter, which he described as "disgusting and unforgivable".
Young said he was aware of this occurring, but was not aware of how the decision came about.
Commission lead counsel Hannah Janes questioned Young about their poor record-keeping and even destruction of records, some of which he'd spoken about in his affidavit during the White trial.
In October 1999, when Child Youth and Family became a department in its own right, many old staff files were destroyed, Young had said.
Subsequently in the White case, of the 28 staff members named by the plaintiffs, files could be found for only six of them.
"My only comment is that I don't know the basis for which they were destroyed," Young told the commission.
"One would like to think they were destroyed in line with archives legislation.
"Whether there was any other purpose or reason for them being destroyed, I don't know.
"What I do know is it presents us all with additional challenges when records are not available."
Janes also referred to a paper produced by Cooper Legal in 2006, which identified 235 employees in state care institutions against whom allegations of abuse had been made, nine of whom remained employed.
Young explained the steps regarding the current employees following these revelations, including an internal investigation and contacting police.
None were confirmed independently as perpetrators of abuse, and police confirmed they would not be following up unless a claimant wished to pursue a criminal complaint.
Given the high numbers of cases coming to the Ministry, Janes questioned why they had not taken a broader approach or a "global settlement", as in the multi-million dollar payout for Lake Alice claimants.
"In hindsight, it is very easy ... It would have been helpful if this commission had been held 14 years ago and that may have given us or the Crown perhaps a clearer and more certain direction to take."
He said they needed to devise a better process that avoided the need for litigation and was more "claimant-focused".
Young also spoke at length to the commission about the "privilege" at being involved in resolving these claims, but also the pain he personally felt at their failures, in particular that of Wiffin.
"If there is any one claim that troubles me, it is his. For that I once again apologise to Mr Wiffin.
"Having watched Mr Wiffin give evidence to the hearing, it just fills me with sadness again what he's gone through, along with many other survivors, of course."
Young met with Wiffin and his lawyers in July 2008, giving an indication his claim would be resolved quickly, but a year later no action had been taken.
"I was angry at myself for not having done so," Young said.
He acknowledged all survivors for "graciously and courageously" opening up about their "most private and harmful experiences".
"[It] has never ceased to amaze me and my colleagues."
While for many the process had made a difference to their lives, he acknowledged they had "not always got it right and for some survivors we have fallen far short of their expectations".
"Many good people have worked in the field and numerous efforts have been made over the years to innovate and enhance practice. But hidden in that are the experiences of abuse survivors – those who have been let down so badly by the system.
"We should be grateful that survivors and their advocates have begun to shine a light on those experiences and to hold those who need to be, accountable."
• The second State Redress Hearing runs until November 4, with further witnesses from MSD, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Oranga Tamariki, Ministry of Justice and the Solicitor-General responding to survivors' evidence and outlining past and current policies and processes.
• This follows the first State Redress Hearing held last month, which focused on the experiences of survivors in seeking redress for abuse in state care.
• The Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry is investigating the abuse and neglect that happened to children, young people and vulnerable adults in care from 1950 to 1999. It may also consider experiences of abuse or neglect outside these dates.
• After completing its investigations, it will make recommendations to the Governor-General on how New Zealand can better care for children, young people and vulnerable adults.
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