Child abuser James Parker used every trick in the book to ingratiate himself into a small Northland Maori community. Catherine Masters talks to the people he left hurting

The farm was just lovely. There were pigs, ducks, chickens, cows to milk. A four-wheeled motorbike to ride on. A truck to drive around the paddock. Bonfires.

There were so many fun things to do on the farm.

"What's more wholesome than going to a farm, eh,?" says the solo mother from Kaitaia.

It doesn't feel like that anymore, now she knows what it was all for.


"He'd created an oasis, hadn't he, for young boys. He'd deliberately created it."

Now her son talks about killing himself and she fears for the future.

The boy was 10 when the abuse by trusted Pamapuria primary school deputy principal James Parker began and this boy is only one of an unknown total number of boys abused over many years.

The Pakeha teacher used every avenue he possibly could to immerse himself in the Maori community, where he targeted the most vulnerable. But he didn't stop there. It was as if he ingratiated himself with almost the entire town of Kaitaia, grooming people so well that when there were alarm bells, they were mostly not pursued or not believed.

He befriended parents, made himself part of families, played guitar and ran the kapa haka group of little kids who sang their hearts out with passion and pride and won trophies. The lanky, barefoot teacher learnt just enough te reo and tikanga to get by on, apparently in order to prey on children.

He was fresh-faced with an open, boyish face, said one local, but looking back he was a sort of social zealot, always saying "we've got to do this for the kids, we've got to do that".

In retrospect, said another, though he had a lovely smile, sometimes his hands shook.

Some who knew him well said they were now so angry they could not speak.

Parker, 37, may be this country's worst known paedophile. Last month in Kaitaia District Court, his sentencing for the 49 counts he has already admitted to was deferred until March after police laid a second wave of charges.

The sentencing was complex, Judge Greg Davis is reported to have said, because: "I have not been able to find similar offending or a similar extent of offending."

Of course, the town of Kaitaia has been rocked twice more since Parker's arrest in August. Last month, Kaitaia Family Church pastor Eric Reid admitted a raft of charges involving covert camera recordings of women and girls. Shocking enough for an already shocked population but then came the arrest of businessman Daniel Taylor - a CYF foster parent and prominent member of the Mormon church - who has yet to make a plea on 19 charges of indecent assault on boys.

Some said it was the bravery of those little boys of decile one Pamapuria School, 10km south of Kaitaia, in coming forward that gave others courage to also come forward. Rumours swirl in the north that there may be still more shocks in store.

These cases raise many questions, among them how this could happen, how it could go on for so long under people's noses and how healing can take place in the context of such deep damage.

Iwi leaders talked of the trusting nature of people, plus issues of severe deprivation and the break-down of families. They also pointed out that Northland's suicide rate was higher than the road toll. One added a reminder that most sexual abuse occurs in families.

For the Kaitaia mother, Parker was part of the family.

He was a helpful friend, inviting her child to the farm sometimes so she could have a break and sometimes just because it was fun there.

"James asked for him," the mother said and told how "heaps" of boys used to go at weekends to the house, separated from its neighbours on a long country road.

She realises now this was simply one of what she calls his access points, another layer of grooming.

"I've thought about it a lot over the last few months and you can just see how he's come in not from one angle but like four angles, even five," she said, listing that he had become deputy principal, had run the kapa haka, was trusted by whanau, he had the farm and was married.

Though she didn't know about his early years, she believed Parker's family were originally from England and said that at the age of about 15 he began living with a local Maori family when he was "going with" one of their nieces.

"It's like he whangaied himself into that whanau ... that he's made himself a part of this whanau and that to me is how he got into the Maori community. He put himself there."

And there he learnt what he could. The woman remembers while some did not like the fact that he would get up and make a speech or take the kapa haka, most were impressed by his efforts. He would go to tangi, he did all the right things.

Parker was said to be a good teacher at Pamapuria School on State Highway One. It's a pleasant, safe-looking little rural school with the usual jungle gym and kids running around and yelling. There the commissioner, Larry Forbes, brought in by the Education Minister after the lid blew, the Board of Trustees resigned and the principal went on leave, said the talk is there could be hundreds of charges by the time this is all over.

Parker worked at Pamapuria for 12 years and before then was at tiny Oturu School a little out of Kaitaia and also at Awanui School, a bit to the north.

Some of the affected are teenagers now and Forbes says one disclosure is from a young man in his early 20s.

The situation is so mind-boggling, the commissioner says, that if it was written up as a novel people would say "'No'. It's so unbelievable it doesn't even make good fiction."

Parker was a master manipulator who managed to normalise what clearly, in hindsight, was the abnormal. "He was very, very, very clever."

At Pamapuria School some of the children are disarming in their friendliness and crowd around wanting to be in the photo. Forbes said Parker had known some of the victims from when they were babies.

The school has been through real trauma but it will be okay, he said, praising the staff, teachers and teacher aides who are left behind with the mess.

There should be no blame game, he said: the one who is responsible is Parker.

Parker came close to being stopped a few years ago. In 2009 a student at the school disclosed to a family member that he had been abused and named two other boys. The police were told and an investigation launched.

But, such was the strength of the mana Parker had, the boy's grandparents talked him out of the complaint so as not to destroy Parker's career. The allegation was retracted and the boy returned to school.

Forbes shakes his head, saying this for him is one of the hardest things; the thought of that boy having to walk back into Parker's classroom and be perceived as the one who had wrongly accused him.

"Mr Parker shook the boy's hand, patted him on the back and accepted his apology, I presume ... I can't really imagine how his life has been over that period of time, going back into that classroom each day, with that knowledge. It's very, very unfair. Those kids need to be heard, they need to be listened to, there need to be processes in place to follow up.

"What an utter waste if that doesn't happen."

There is so much damage in this community. Just up the road from the school is Te Paatu Marae, where Parker trod barefoot many times with the kapa haka group.

Kuia Waireti Walters, a QSM, JP and very angry 79-year-old, bangs her walking stick on the ground.

It's not like this is an isolated case, she says. Look at Jimmy Saville and the BBC, child sexual abuse is worldwide.

"But we are trying to handle it from our little corner of the world and our corner of the world is very sacred to us. We have so many other things that are against us, unemployment, housing problems, health problems and social issues, pile upon pile.

"But somehow this is more grave than the other social issues that we do face."

They had a huge meeting at the marae after the first court appearance and a cleansing of the school, which was healing, but the child victims needed more than counselling, the kuia said. They needed to be surrounded with love and practical things too. Buy them a skateboard and a warm jacket, some new shoes, she said.

"If I had the budget that's what I would do, I would find these little boys and take them on a long trip where they can just somehow feel that the people care about them."

Parker should be tied naked to the Countdown clock and whipped by members of the public as they go by, she said, banging her stick again.

The kuia's daughter, Lisa McNab, knew him better and went to his wedding. She knew of four different girlfriends he had over the years, three of them solo parents.

It hadn't sat right with her that a young man who taught at school all week would then give up his weekends to hold wananga, weekend after weekend.

"If anything this should provide a wake-up call for us as parents and community leaders, to be more robust if we do feel uncomfortable, to really rattle cages until notice is taken of your concern."

She knows some of the mothers and says they were good mothers, not drug addicts or alcoholics, and supportive of their children.

But Parker was "clinical in his execution". He had used the intrinsic principles of who the people are to take advantage and hurt their children.

"He has absolutely ridiculed and shat on manaakitanga of te iwi Maori. He has absolutely used manaakitanga and kapa haka and wananga and whanau as a way to con everyone."

Haami Piripi, Te Rarawa runanga chairman, sits to talk at the end of a long day and says maybe the reason why Parker got away with this for so long is the way people live.

"I think it's possibly that Maori families are often in communal type situations and when you're in a communal situation the level of accountability is fudged a little ...

"When you matrix that with families under stress and pressure, particularly solo parent families, it's an ideal scenario for the predator."

He reveals that something happened to him as a boy, but he doesn't want to go into details.

"It's one of life's hazards for young Maori boys," he says.

Why Maori boys?

"They're vulnerable," he says: "Vulnerable, friendly, affable, don't want to say no, don't want to offend."

He thinks the grandparents who talked the boy into retracting the allegations of 2009 would also have been doing that to protect him, to stop everyone from knowing because other people knowing can be devastating too.

With Parker's popularity and status, the boys were up against a juggernaut, probably thinking "do we want to risk our whole lives to out this bastard?"

He says the socio-economic deprivation in the north is the highest in the country and that Northland had seen 32 suicides this year, one of them a 10-year-old boy.

"We've got a pressure pot of circumstances that our families live in and we have to address that ... "

Ngati Kahu chief executive Anahera Herbert-Graves is visibly upset by events. She spoke personally, not on behalf of her tribe, and said without wanting to hurt any of the families involved, the fail points must be explored.

Underneath all the abuse and grooming that went on, Herbert-Graves said Maori needed to look at their families.

Her iwi authority had spent hours and hours talking and conferring about what this had raised and what could be done. "And they're very clear this is monstrous behaviour. What they're not so clear on is that it's not just individual paedophiles with large lists of victims, that it's right there in their own communities, in their own families.

"Let's face it, we could hang everything on James Parker and Daniel Taylor but the biggest abuse amongst Maori is in our own families and it's done by family members. Until we're willing to confront that, then we're not likely to really be talking and getting clear with our kids about what constitutes abuse, we're not going to get clear with them because hey, they might realise that we're abusers, or that we've been abused, or that Grandpa's an abuser."

There is no such thing as a family at risk - they're all at risk, she said.

One of those families is the Kaitaia solo mother and her damaged son.

She said that when Parker appeared in court he told people he was not a monster.

He is a monster, she said, but his crimes were even more unforgivable because instead of using his intelligence and knowledge to turn away from a situation, he used it to create one. "To me that is the clear vision of a monster. He's used every ounce of his knowledge to create an absolute nightmare."

The warning signs

• In 1998, when Parker was at Oturu School, he was reported to often have boys staying the night. A former girlfriend had said he showered and slept with them in the living room. Police were contacted and Parker was warned but within months boys were back staying with him and parents were again grateful for the time out and positive influence he had.

• In March 2009 he was placed on leave while the police investigated a complaint of indecent assault. In April the allegations were retracted and Parker returned to teaching.

• A teacher at Pamapuria School described being "startled" by how much he would touch the children.

• Others said the children would often approach him for a hug or a cuddle.

• A teacher recalled seeing a boy in his car, refusing to get out even though Parker was angry. She had a "horrible feeling".

• A trustee saw a boy sitting between Parker's knees at a school camp. She told the boy to move away and a parent told her she was "going on too much" about it. The next morning one of the boys came out of the tent where he and others were sleeping with Parker and said "I've got James' boxers on."

From a report on James Parker to the Commissioner of Pamapuria School.