A privacy breach at Archives NZ saw files containing personal details of state wards at children's homes in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s exposed to public view. The Herald identified the breach and analysed the files which provide an extraordinary insight into how the state raised children during a period about to face a Royal Commission of Inquiry.
They were children. That's the strongest impression gained from reading the personal, detailed files of those kept in state institutions.
They were taken from their parents through the 1950s and into the 1990s by a state which thought it knew better.
Yet records from children's homes uncovered by the Herald suggest the state knew little, if anything, about raising children.
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The names of more than 500 children, and details of their time in state care, were available through a breach of privacy by Archives NZ, quickly rectified after being raised by the Herald.
They provide an insight into what it was an estimated 100,000 children lived through, and into the issues facing the upcoming Royal Commission into abuse in state and faith-based care.
The files found in Archives NZ were largely from Hokio Boys' School and Kohitere Boys' Training Centre, close to Levin on that narrow, strip of coastal land between Wellington and the Manawatu plains called Horowhenua.
They were two of 21 state-run children's homes. They have been empty for almost 30 years but the legacy they left remains.
Tracing the names of the children in the homes, the Herald found they emerged later in court hearings into murder and suicide, in gang membership, homelessness, in psychiatric care.
"It's really f***** me up, as it did to quite a lot of us," says Tyrone Marks, 59, whose records at a Hokio and Kohitere boy were found by the Herald at Archives NZ.
The files detail Marks' passage through two children's homes before Hokio and Kohitere boys, and his admission to the notorious Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital. To speak to Marks of it, the journey was one of survival - sexual abuse, violence and electric shock treatment served up as punishment.
"A lot of us joined the gangs," says life-long Mongrel Mob member Marty Brandt, 60. "The government more or less created us. We said 'no more, we're going to have our own rules'.
"We hated anything to do with authority, because of that, and rebelled against it, and against people."
A former resident of the boys' homes named in the files, but not wishing to be identified, said: "Now you know why there's gangs. It's people who have been through the system. It's because of the system."
A history of abuse
The discovery of the records seems to speak to the way the former state wards from Hokio Boys' and Kohitere Boys' characterise their treatment, at the time and down the years. Other institutions have their records shut away, marked private for 100 years.
For what the estimated 100,000 children suffered, compensation should be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Marks says.
Instead, the total settlement so far is around $27 million. Lawyer Sonja Cooper, whose firm acts for around 1400 former state and faith wards, has won $15m in settlement of 1087 claims. She's been at this for 30 years, and her stories are of a battle constant against the Crown.
New Zealand's story of raising state wards mirrors - in many ways - the experience of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom. The similarities were such, the evidence here so extensive, that survivors have wondered why there has been resistance.
"We've been saying you could have coughed up a long time ago," says Marks, who received some compensation in 2001. "But New Zealand, at the bottom of the world, seems to be saying this didn't happen."
Hokio Boys was at the beach, 10 minutes from Levin. Kohitere Boys was just on the outskirts of town, and was intended for older children.
The records obtained by the Herald show only part of the story, but it is an important part.
They don't record the informal, late-night fights organised by staff to mete out punishment or the physical violence some staff are alleged to have inflicted on children. There's no sexual abuse register, documenting the alleged molestation and rape of children, or a record of the staff-member paedophiles allegedly moved between institutions after suspicions over their behaviour.
Instead, the documents reveal an insight into what was considered acceptable at the time, and what those running the schools hoped to achieve.
They took care to arrange holidays, and to safeguard the pocket money provided to the boys for those breaks. In one letter, a senior Hokio Boys' staff member writes to a boy's mother reminding her to post Christmas presents early to guard against late arrival. "This can be very disappointing for a boy when he sees other boys opening parcels on Christmas Day."
In a similar, pragmatic way, they also spell out how incarceration of children for two weeks, followed by a fortnight of constant physical exercise from dawn to dusk, was simply considered the right punishment for those who ran away.
Minutes of housemaster meetings from 1972 record the realisation the punishment system was actually causing children to run away.
When the boys were caught, they were sent to Kohitere Boys', which generally had older residents, and locked in the secure unit for two weeks before being sent back to Hokio. There, "boys (were) kept on the move from dawn to dusk, moving at the double and working constantly", during which they were not allowed to speak to others.
The minutes describe how the school had "drifted into" the regime of punishment when it was short of staff without considering "undesirable side effects", including depriving struggling learners of access to school time.
At other times, it was considered reasonable to surrender a child's education and put him to manual labour when, in the view of the Hokio Boys' principal, "he will only achieve failure".
It provides an insight into the state of the school, with a psychologist writing in December 1968 of dismal schooling prospects for the 60 boys at Hokio Boys' School. "Scholastically many of the boys at Hokio are critically retarded in the basic subjects, particularly reading."
Almost 10 years later, in June 1977, little had improved when the Hokio Boys' principal described the school as providing an "unsatisfactory service" which meant "children in our care are not receiving the education they are in need of and are entitled to".
Despite running for decades, the principal said there was "very little research" on how to teach children such as those at Hokio. As a result, they made "little or no progress" and were "not high enough (in achievement) to enable them to get through life adequately".
So many boys went from Hokio Boys' to Kohitere Boys', then into the world and into prison. Two-thirds of our current prison population struggle with everyday literacy.
There was oddly pejorative and personal commentary on state wards. "This boy has the most unfortunate physical appearance," wrote one social worker.
The files engage hindsight in awful ways. In 1971, Dr Selwyn Leeks emerges.
At the time, Hokio Boys' principal was despairing of the lack of mental health support the school received. Leeks was working for the Child Health Clinic and the Manawaroa Centre of Psychological Medicine, which saw him making regular visits to Hokio Boys'.
A year later, Leeks was writing from Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital. From 1972 through to 1977, he oversaw the infamous programme of electroconvulsive therapy at Lake Alice.
The Archives NZ records show children from a range of state institutions were sent there for treatment, along with other hospitals.
But it is Lake Alice which sits, still, at the rancorous core of abuse allegations by state wards.
Concerns about ECT use at Lake Alice emerged in 1976 when the Herald highlighted the case of a 13-year-old boy, originally from Niue, admitted as a patient in 1975 because of depression and aggressive behaviour.
While the inquiry cleared the hospital of using ECT as punishment, a fresh inquiry in 1980 offered a more damning verdict. It found the treatment unsuitable for children, and was critical of the state allowing the use of an ineffective and painful treatment, commonly without anaesthetic.
Evidence has emerged over decades revealing the treatment as ill-suited for children, particularly in the way Leeks carried it out.
In 2001, a new inquiry led to compensation for some subjected to ECT and found it had been used as a punishment. "The ECT was plainly delivered as a means of inflicting pain in order to coerce behaviour," read the report.
Those who ran away were electrocuted in the legs. Bed wetting, or "unacceptable sexual behaviour", led to electrocution through the genitals, even - it seems from Herald interviews - for those who were victims of sexual violence.
Brandt has a burn scar on his penis, which he says was the result of electric shock treatment at Lake Alice while a child. His name is in the Archives NZ records in relation to being sent for treatment at psychiatric hospitals.
"It was torture in there," Marks says.
The Herald's analysis of the Archives NZ files has turned up a letter from Leeks, written in October 1972, to the then-Department of Social Welfare, complaining about social workers visiting state wards.
He said "there is a tendency for them to see patients directly", without the charge nurse's knowledge. Instead, he said they needed to speak with the charge nurse. "There have been occasions recently when an adolescent has been upset which has in itself added to an already explosive situation within the villa."
The letter resulted in the Director of Social Welfare writing to Hokio Boys', Kohitere Boys' and Holdsworth Residential School telling them to follow Leeks' direction because "it is important to me that our relationships with Lake Alice are maintained at a high level".
The correspondence is significant because evidence was produced during the inquiry into the boy from Niue showed Leeks had similarly isolated himself and the adolescent unit from oversight by medical authorities.
The 1977 inquiry heard evidence from the director of the wider Lake Alice hospital who had received "written direction not to involve himself in clinical matters in the adolescent psychiatric unit".
It meant Lake Alice, during the time it was admitting and electrocuting children, it appeared to be isolated from health and welfare authorities.
In 2001, the government paid $10.7m compensation to 183 former patients and apologised after claims ECT, or a painful sedative paraldehyde, was used as punishment during Leeks' time.
Police have investigated complaints against Leeks, who is now 90 and has lived in Melbourne for four decades. No charges have been laid.
But the horrors of Lake Alice were not confined to ECT. It's a time during which children sent there complain of suffering sexual violence by other patients and by staff.
Detective Superintendent Tim Anderson, national manager of criminal investigations, told the Herald police were currently interviewing complainants.
"Those complaints are currently being investigated and relate directly to the sexual abuse allegations."
The Royal Commission has also established a procedure for passing to police incidents which require investigation, and has done so already.
"They're getting called out now," says Marks. "The hourglass of continuous sand has run out."
A life sentence
You can track their lives through court hearings, inquests, inquiries. It's a perverse roll of honour for graduates of Hokio Boys'.
Here's one who died at his own hand in prison. Here's another who watched a friend overdose from methadone abuse. Here's a murderer serving a life sentence. Here's a life of petty crime.
Former Hokio and Kohitere boy Greg Armishaw, now 61, was 10 when he went into the Dunedin Boys' Home after breaking into a home.
"After that, I didn't go back to my family. I was a state ward until I was 17 and they let me out. They didn't know what to do with me so they kept me there for ages."
Armishaw describes Hokio Boys' as a "shock to the system".
"It was a different planet. We were just kids."
During that time, the records support his memory of being sent for psychiatric care. ECT was among the treatment to which Armishaw recalls being subjected.
It was while at Cherry Farm hospital, as a boy of 13, he tried to take his life.
"It didn't work. I'm still alive. Honestly, I didn't believe I would live this long."
The threat of violence at Hokio Boys, and an awareness of sexually predatory staff, was constant. The boys didn't talk about it, or go to the adults running the institution. "Most people just kept that sort of shit to themselves, for fear of reprisals."
He recalls being sent to the secure unit at Kohitere after attacking a fellow student who called him "motherless", the day after his mother died and after he had been barred from attending her funeral.
The Kohitere secure unit was called "the digger". There was physical exercise as punishment - "you had to run everywhere, exercise all the time". Withdrawal of regular food was also part of the punishment, he says. The "number one" diet was a couple of slices of bread, lard, water and a cup of tea.
"When I left Kohitere, I was that institutionalised I didn't want to leave."
It wasn't long before he was back inside. A year after Armishaw left, he was back in a juvenile detention centre "and then out of there and into jail".
"(Hokio Boys) was like a stepping stone. I was a housebreaker. I actually learned a lot of shit there that I got jailed for."
Armishaw has no doubt his life was shaped by his time as a state ward. As he sees it, the dominoes fell from the moment he chose - as a 10-year-old - to enter and burgle someone else's home.
"They (lawyers) got hold of me and asked if I wanted to take the government for some sort of claim.
He said no. "I put myself there. You have to own that sort of shit. It all came down to me in the end. It was me that burgled that house."
For all Armishaw is willing to shoulder the decisions he made as a child, he does see a need for accountability and endorses the Royal Commission as the means by which to do it.
There is value for the country, but especially "the kids it was done to". It's not enough to identify what happened to children in care.
Armishaw wants some accounting for those who crept into boy's sleeping areas at night, or took advantage of working somewhere others would be unable to witness the abuse they perpetrated.
'Our last tour'
The Royal Commission is preparing for its first public hearing in October. That's 20 months after the government announced it would be set up.
The first hearings include a confidential forum expected to hear testimony about Lake Alice.
Over the four years it is running, it expects to hear from 2700 survivors. There are five Commissioners, counsel appointed to assist the inquiry, a secretariat which has been established to support the inquiry's work.
Its early days have not been without struggle. It enlisted survivors to help model its engagement, and now has its own internal inquiry underway after allegations of domestic violence against a member of its advisory group.
There was also criticism of the so-called "mock" sessions with survivors, who say they were not told "private" sessions with commissioners, in which they gave an account of abuse, would not be included as evidence.
There were concerns raised with the Herald by Cooper, whose firm has active 1400 claims relevant to the inquiry. It has yet to have confirmed any role in the Royal Commission, and funding for its work - as has occurred with the Inquiry into Operation Burnham - has been difficult to arrange.
There will be few in the country with as consistent, deep and lengthy involvement in the issues before the Royal Commission, or personal and professional contact with so many whose lives were affected.
"We've felt quite disengaged," she said.
It seems slow to start and unwieldy at the outset, yet perhaps it indicates the enormous task before the Inquiry.
The Hokio Boys' and Kohitere Boys' records left open at Archives NZ are, themselves, a considerable task to work through. A massive amount of data sits behind those, as it does for other institutions, and it exists over decades.
And those are just Crown bodies. Faith-based abuse was also brought into the inquiry, which massively expanded its reach.
The Crown, which acted as parent for the 100,000 state wards, has formed a secretariat to manage its response to the Royal Commission.
No one from it would be interviewed on key aspects of the Crown's approach to the Royal Commission, even though States Services minister Chris Hipkins identified "openness" and "transparency" as key to the Crown's response. In May this year, a Cabinet paper released by Hipkins stated it was important for the Crown to be "honest and sincere", and to promote "sharing information, including the reasons behind all actions".
The Crown's response is of keen interest to those involved in the inquiry, including lawyers like Cooper and former state wards like Marks. From their perspective, the Crown is the institution which has fought for years against claims lodged over abuse suffered.
A report into the claims process for former state wards last year Recommended extensive changes to how it approached settling those lodged before 2008.
A separate report on Māori claimants found: "The unequal balance of power they experienced as children is perpetuated through policies and processes that favour the ministry and place an unequal burden on claimants to provide evidence."
In a statement, the secretariat for the Crown said it was taking a fresh approach to the matters to be heard in the Royal Commission, and while secretariat had not been vetted over prior involvement, "to the best of our knowledge no-one has had contact with former state ward claimants".
While it was possible secretariat staff might have contact with those handling abuse claims, "no one in the secretariat is directly involved with processing such claims, nor do they have access to personal details of claims lodged".
"They've been able to shove it down," says Marks of the period to be examined by the Royal Commission.
He, and others, believe in the value of the Royal Commission. The period under scrutiny never been properly examined.
The history we accept doesn't match with the history those state wards remember and many interviewed say they will never peace until those divergent pasts have been matched.
And this chance looks like the last chance.
Marks: "We're on our last f****** tour. We're getting old. Not everyone is going to be around a whole lot longer."