The great-grandparents of a little girl beaten to death believe she would still be alive if a police calltaker had acted on their desperate phone call for help, the day before the toddler was killed.
The Herald understands the Independent Police Conduct Authority has investigated a complaint about their phone call before the death of Nevaeh Ager and the findings are critical of the police communications centre.
Nevaeh Ager, 2, was found dead in an estuary near Maketu in the Bay of Plenty in March last year. Her father Aaron Izett, 38, pleaded not guilty to murder by reason of insanity but was convicted this week after a High Court jury trial in Rotorua.
Izett was also convicted of assaulting John Sturgess, Nevaeh's great-grandfather, in a heated confrontation the day before Nevaeh was killed.
He punched the older man hard enough to leave bruises on his upper arm and face, then threw stones at his car as they left.
Sturgess and his wife Niki were so frightened by the erratic behaviour of Izett, who was "ranting and raving", and concerned about the safety of Nevaeh that they drove straight to the nearest police station in Te Puke.
The station was closed, so they called and spoke to a calltaker in the police communications centre.
The Sturgesses, who are from Hawke's Bay, wanted the police to help them uplift Nevaeh from the home, but were told the police could not intervene as they weren't her legal guardians.
They were told to raise their concerns with Nevaeh's mother Alyson Ager - their granddaughter - who was a legal guardian for the little girl.
However, Alyson Ager was still in Tauranga Hospital receiving a blood transfusion after the emergency birth of her second child.
After staying the night in hospital, Alyson returned to Little Waihi the next day with her great-grandparents and new baby. They arrived home to find police at the property and learned Nevaeh was dead.
"We needed help and they told us to go to the hospital," John Sturgess told the Herald.
"Hindsight is always 20/20 I guess, but Nevaeh would still be alive [if the police had acted sooner]. The whole thing has been so traumatic for our family."
The Herald can reveal the Independent Police Conduct Authority has investigated the phone call before Nevaeh's death, and a source said the findings of the police watchdog criticised the response of the communications centre.
The Sturgesses have still had no explanation from the police about what happened and said they needed answers.
A spokeswoman for the New Zealand Police said no comment could be made until the court process was concluded when Izett was sentenced.
Warren Young, the general manager of the IPCA, confirmed the watchdog body had investigated the events leading up to the death of Nevaeh.
The report would be made public but only after the appeal period ends after Izett's sentencing on the murder conviction next year.
"I can't comment further."
Aaron Izett was yesterday convicted of Nevaeh's murder, assaulting John Sturgess and injuring a police officer with intent, by biting the officer. He was found not guilty of wounding a neighbour with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
Izett accepted he caused the fatal injuries but denied he had murderous intent, as he had a disease of the mind.
The Crown case was that there was no evidence of Izett suffering from a mental illness at the time, nor evidence to support an insanity defence. The attack on Nevaeh was the result of a "meth rage".
Pathologist Rexson Tse gave evidence that Nevaeh sustained multiple bruises and abrasions to almost all her body caused by a weapon or weapons.
He said there could have been 70 to 80 blows to her body, including at least 10 or possibly up to 20 to the toddler's head, and a torn ligament in her neck.
After Izett assaulted his daughter he placed her naked body face-down in the water on mudflats and placed two large rocks on top of her.
Crown prosecutor Kieran Raftery QC told the jury that Izett's violent assault of his daughter and the multiple injuries inflicted on her were "brutal in the extreme".
Raftery said Nevaeh would have suffered a "severe reign of terror" from Izett's sustained assault and the force used "spoke volumes" about his intention to kill her.
Defence lawyer Julie-Anne Kincade QC argued Izett lacked the necessary intent to be found guilty of murder, or should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
She said there was evidence from eyewitnesses, medical reports and other signs of Izett suffering a psychosis, given his erratic behaviour and being "out of touch with reality".
Kincade said Izett's use of methamphetamine did not explain his strange behaviour and there were clearly other things going on in his mind not linked to drug-taking.
She said the defence submitted Izett was "suffering from a disease of the mind" at the time and not capable of understanding his actions were morally wrong.
Izett reported hearing voices, including a female voice threatening to kill him, and was having hallucinations and grandiose thoughts about his wealth and "being a prophet".
She also told the jury that the accused had also thought police were trying to poison him.
"When you look at all the evidence there is absolutely no evidence that Mr Izett intended to kill his daughter, but whatever was going on in his mind it was not logical."
Izett will be sentenced on February 3 in the High Court at Tauranga.
- Additional reporting Sandra Conchie