By MONIQUE DEVEREUX
Mereana Te Mana Motuhake Edmonds was a happy little girl who lived most of her six years with her beloved Nanny in Hawkes Bay.
Then she went to stay with her mother - and her life turned into a living hell.
From almost the moment she arrived to live in Hamilton in December 1998, Mereana was brutally bashed, punched, slapped and kicked.
She was rarely without bruises, her collarbone was broken and her ribs were fractured.
As punishment for wetting her pants or the bed, the little girl spent nights locked in a dark shed outside her house or was violently slung into the wash-house.
She was kicked so hard she lost her sense of balance and was unable to walk around the house without hitting furniture or walls. She was often picked up by her hair.
Once, she was slammed backwards into a hard object with such force that her brain rebounded off the front of her skull.
Mereana almost escaped her abusive world.
In May last year, plans were made for her to return to Flaxmere to live with Nanny.
But too late. On May 10, 1999, Mereana was found dead in her Hamilton home.
Yesterday in the High Court at Hamilton, her mother, Belinda Edmonds, aged 32, was jailed for five years on a charge of manslaughter.
Edmonds' partner, 31-year-old Dorothy Tipene, was jailed for 18 months on a charge of cruelty to a child.
Justice Grant Hammond acknowledged that Mereana's death was the cumulative result of "a difficult life" and that Edmonds' psychological problems contributed to her actions.
Mereana died as a result of violence. She was also conceived as a result of it - Edmonds was raped at 26. In normal circumstances names of rape victims are suppressed, but Justice Hammond told the Weekend Herald that in this case Edmonds' name could be revealed because a charge of rape was never laid.
Despite the lack of a criminal conviction, he said, the court accepted that Mereana was conceived by rape.
The third of eight children, Edmonds became a solvent abuser at the age of 10 and later a repeat offender. She started living on the streets after leaving school in the third form.
Edmonds has 48 convictions - 42 for anti-social crimes such as theft, five for assault and one for cannabis possession.
Most of her siblings have also been through the courts. A brother in the Mongrel Mob was recently jailed for 10 years.
During her pregnancy, Edmonds sought treatment in a Hanmer Springs drug and alcohol rehabilitation programme, where she met Tipene.
Mereana was born in Hastings on November 24, 1992. She lived with her mother on and off for 18 months before going to live with her grandmother, Haraiata Edmonds.
Mereana's next 4 1/2 years were those of a normal childhood. She went to Peterhead School, where teachers regarded her as a real character with a sense of humour.
Principal Tim Anderson said Mereana "simply adored her Nanny." Teachers remembered her as a sparkling, happy child. News of her death "crushed everyone."
In 1998, Edmonds decided her daughter should live with her in Hamilton. The pair first lived at the YWCA but even in the early stages caring for Mereana was a struggle for Edmonds.
In court yesterday, her lawyer, Herman Roose, said Edmonds had conflicting feelings for Mereana. On one hand, she felt motherly emotions and affection.
On the other, her personal problems, especially the rape, made it difficult to care for the little girl.
Eventually, Mereana, Edmonds and Tipene all lived together in a Boundary Rd house and Mereana was enrolled in Hamilton East Primary School.
But the school was troubled by her behaviour. On hot days she would arrive wearing full-length clothing, then refuse to go swimming.
She was sometimes too scared to get off the school bus to go home, and would cling, crying, to the legs of one of the teachers.
The school notified Child, Youth and Family Services. Board of trustees chairwoman Bev Cooper will not say what follow-up came from that call, or how many times the school called CYFS, but is confident the school acted appropriately.
But sources told the Weekend Herald that CYFS made one phone call to Mereana's home to ask if there was a problem with her care, and was told by one of the accused that all was well.
No other call, no home visit and no follow-up were made.
CYFS will not discuss Mereana's case except to say its actions were "appropriate" and would not be reviewed - a decision made by chief social worker Mike Doolan with the Commissioner for Children's backing.
Asked if a single phonecall to one of the people alleged to be abusing the child was appropriate, a CYFS spokesperson was "not sure if we're prepared to comment on that."
Two weeks before Mereana's death, Edmonds was reaching crisis point.
The abuse was out of control and she was having intensive counselling. Around this time plans were made for Mereana to return to her Nanny.
But she didn't get there.
Edmonds and Tipene were both charged with manslaughter on December 14 last year. Tipene's charge was later reduced to one of cruelty.
At a depositions hearing this year, a pathologist said Mereana had suffered three major brain traumas before her death, caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain.
One, from a severe blow, was received about two hours before she died. The child had numerous other injuries - bruises and abrasions all over her body and even a bite mark made by an adult.
Yesterday, Justice Hammond told Edmonds she was "clearly a grossly damaged person."
He called Tipene "a distinct agent in the death of Mereana."
He acknowleged that both women were remorseful about their action, especially Edmonds, who in evidence to police said: "I never really hugged her. Now I know I loved her, I wish I could have another chance with her."
By MONIQUE DEVEREUX