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Each night Ngatikaura Ngati would climb into bed and tell his adoptive mum Kura and dad Finau that he loved them before clasping his little hands together in prayer.

He'd then fall asleep in a bedroom full of family photos and toys, with pictures of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet keeping watch over him from the door.

During the day the 3-year-old would play his ukulele, sing on his karaoke machine or enjoy trips to the beach or zoo with Kura and Finau who had cared for him since he was one month old.


He was a happy child. A child who was clearly loved.

But three weeks after his third birthday everything changed in Ngati's life.

His birth mother Maine Ngati decided she wanted him back from her cousin Kura so Ngati was plucked from the only home he'd ever known.

The South Auckland toddler was thrown into a completely unfamiliar environment. A new home in Otara where there were four other children, including a newborn baby. A home where there was a mattress on the floor but no blankets, and no Winnie the Pooh on the door.

Ngati's new family spoke English. He had grown up speaking only Tongan so he struggled to communicate with his siblings and parents.

The toilet-trained toddler suddenly started regularly wetting his pants and developed a weeping ulcer the size of a man's hand on his bottom. His birth mother sought no medical treatment, instead covering it with a sanitary pad.

Ngati was quickly transformed from a happy and confident boy to a terrified child who would mess his pants then try to throw the evidence out of the window to avoid the beating that would always follow.

Three short months after he moved in with his birth mother he was dead.

Pathologists have argued in court over the exact cause of his death, but there was no dispute he was covered in injuries.

Graphic photographs taken during Ngati's post-mortem showed a body that had suffered from repeated beatings. He had so many bruises that the officer investigating his death stopped counting after 50.

This week, Ngati's birth mother Maine Ngati and stepfather Teusila Fa'asisila were found guilty of inflicting those injuries. Guilty of Ngati's manslaughter.

A jury at the High Court in Auckland heard how Maine, 32, would punch Ngati in the face, strike him with a stick and whack him around the head when he was naughty. His 27-year-old stepfather beat him with whatever weapon was lying nearby.

Being naughty wasn't hard. Sometimes it was messing his pants. Other times Ngati did not move fast enough or play a game the right way. Once he didn't say "yes Mum". Another time he didn't jump like a frog.

On January 30 last year, the first of what would be the last series of beatings in Ngati's short life occurred at 10am after he did a "kaka" (faeces) in his pants.

Maine later told police she was so angry she picked up a stick and beat Ngati all over his body - except his head. There she used her hand.

After the beating Maine put her son in the bath.

Police say it would have been obvious at this point that Ngati was injured and in pain. His left arm was so badly damaged that it had swollen to twice its normal size. But instead of seeking help for her son, Maine put him to bed.

Later in the day, Ngati awoke on his mattress on the floor needing to go to the toilet. He tried to get up but was unable to due to his injuries, in particular his arm which had no strength.

Unable to hold on Ngati wet his pants - triggering yet another beating from his mother when she found him.

By that night, when his stepfather showered him, police say it would have been impossible not to have seen all of Ngati's injuries.

"He was beaten black and blue all over," said investigating officer Detective Senior Sergeant Richard Middleton.

"This is as bad as anything I have seen on a child or any human. The only thing that was keeping him alive [at that stage] was his young heart."

But Ngati's young heart could only take so much and the following morning he received his final beatings - one from his mother and later one from his stepfather.

Fa'asisila told police that Ngati had "kaka'ed" himself that morning.

To discipline him he picked up a stick, made the boy stand with his hands on the wall and lift up his feet. He then he beat the soles of his feet.

Police didn't believe this version of events, saying Ngati's soles were the only part of his body that weren't bruised.

They, and the jury, believed the account other children gave them - the one in which Fa'asisila picked up a baseball bat and beat him with it all over his body, except his head.

Physical evidence also supported this view. When police searched the Otara home they found a bat tucked out of site. It was covered in Ngati's blood. The child's blood was also found throughout the house.

In two rooms - the living area and Ngati's bedroom - the blood had splattered so high it hit the ceiling. That was impact splatter, splatter caused by an object hitting Ngati while he was already bleeding.

On the floors and walls the blood had been diluted - a sign police say that the parents had tried to wash the evidence away.

The baseball bat beating occurred in the morning while Maine was out at a job interview.

During the afternoon, after Maine had returned, Ngati's condition deteriorated to the point that he was drifting in and out of consciousness. At times he stopped breathing.

At one point, while Maine performed CPR, Fa'asisila suggested calling for an ambulance, but she said no because "then they will find out".

At 5pm Fa'asisila went to get his uncle who lived nearby. The uncle arrived and told the couple to call an ambulance immediately.

On the phone, Maine told the St John operator she had beaten Ngati with a stick but showed more concern for herself than her dying son.

"She said, 'are you going to call the police?'," said Mr Middleton. "Even at that stage she was still more worried about what was going to happen to her than what happened to Ngati."

Ngati was rushed to Middlemore Hospital, then transferred to Starship where his adoptive mother Kura Kaufusi stayed with him till he died. Before he took his final breath Kura leaned over his swollen and distorted body and whispered in his ear for him to "go in peace".

Kura and her husband Finau are still struggling with his violent death.

"I feel like my heart's gone. My heart's been ripped out of my body because he was our heart," said Kura. "I thought I would get over it by now but I can't."

Finau spends a lot of time at Ngati's tiny grave, keeping it clean and tidy; Kura often watches videos the couple took of his first steps, his birthdays, all his important milestones.

The couple were unable to have children and didn't hesitate to take Ngati in when Maine Ngati asked them to have him when he was a baby.

"He was a happy little boy. He called us Mummy and Daddy. He didn't know anyone else," said Kura.

Then in November 2005 Maine wanted Ngati back despite having very little to do with him for three years.

Police were told Maine Ngati was claiming a benefit for more children than were living with her and it was the threat of being caught out - and revenge against her cousin with whom she'd fought - that led to her seeking custody.

"There's nothing that I have seen that showed she wanted Ngati back for reasons of love," said Mr Middleton.

A distraught Kura fought for custody of Ngati. She now regrets doing it the "right way" through lawyers and wishes she had instead whisked Ngati away to a place her cousin would have never found him.

Maybe, she says, he would have still be alive that way."I was trying to do it the right way but as a result he was dead within nine weeks."

Kura said she tried to visit Ngati at his new home but no one would ever answer the door. She worries he never knew why he suddenly had to change houses and had no contact with the only people he'd ever known as Mum and Dad.

"I will always feel guilty because in his mind when he was getting bashed he was probably saying 'where's my mum, where's my dad?'."

Mr Middleton said it was not clear how often Ngati was beaten but it "certainly escalated" in the last two days of his life.

He believes the toileting problem was evidence of the boy's state of mind while in Maine and Fa'asisila's care.

"My thoughts on that are that they beat him so much that he lost confidence and he wet and pooed himself because he got so many beatings."

Mr Middleton said Ngati's final hours would have been excruciating.

When the pathologist cut open his swollen arm they found all the tissue had died from the beating he had suffered. There was a subdural haematoma which was 5-10 days old as well as fresher trauma to the head from the recent beatings.

There was also an unusual patterning with bits of skin missing from his arm, wrist and inside thigh - those injuries are from a weapon police have been unable to find. They say Maine Ngati and Fa'asisila got rid of the weapon - more evidence that the couple knew what they were doing was wrong.

Kura and her husband did not see Ngati after he moved and it is not clear if other relatives were aware of the abuse the little boy suffered - they certainly denied any knowledge of it while giving evidence in court. Ngati's siblings testified and are now being cared for by others.

Mr Middleton said it was possible the beatings never occurred in the presence of other adults, but it was hard to believe no one noticed anything wrong.

On the morning of Ngati's death one of Maine's relatives said she gave him a high-five during breakfast and everything seemed fine. This would have been after he suffered two serious beatings the day before, one so bad that he was unable to use his arm.

"It's impossible to think he was 'quite happy' the morning he died."

Mr Middleton believes it may have been a case of other relatives "wilfully ignoring" what was going on. "The other family members at best didn't want to know.

"In some families abuse of this nature is commonplace and every now and then it turns to tragedy as it has in this case. The answer is never hit your kids."

Kura agrees and says it sickens her to see what happened to Ngati. She no longer considers Maine a relative and says the only blessing in Ngati's death is that he is now "away from the devils."

"I'm glad they got guilty ... That will be justice for my little man."

* Maine and Fa'asisila were charged with murder. They were found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. They were also found guilty of a separate charge of manslaughter for failing to provide medical care which could have saved Ngati's life and for wilful ill-treatment of a child. They will be sentenced next month.