A 13-year-old involved in a close and inappropriate relationship with a former teacher wrote in her diary there had been no sexual contact, an inquest into her death heard.

"Sam is only my best friend. He's never touched me inappropriately," she wrote of her former Gisborne Intermediate teacher Sam Back.

"He's done nothing wrong. I've completely ruined his life."

Reiha McLelland, 13, who is focus of an inquest in Gisborne. Photo / Supplied
Reiha McLelland, 13, who is focus of an inquest in Gisborne. Photo / Supplied

Reiha McLelland's diary entry in May 2014 - two months before she is presumed to have taken her life - was introduced into evidence today by Adam Simperingham, the lawyer acting for Back and his partner Angie Mepham.


The inquest, in Gisborne, is a sequel to a NZ Teachers' Disciplinary Tribunal after which Back was struck from the teachers' register and Mepham was cautioned.

The diary evidence comes after both Reiha's parents stated in testimony they believed Back's relationship with their daughter was "sexual grooming".

Today's testimony heard that concerns were raised over Back "holding hands" with Reiha when she was in hospital for mental health care.

That led to police involvement, the discovery of hundreds of pages of text messages between the pair and and up to 10 sleepovers, both without her parents' knowledge.

It also saw Simperingham questioning Reiha's mother, Hinemoa McLelland, on the strength of her relationship with her daughter, stemming from some of the entries in the diary.

The diary, which Hinemoa McLelland described as "dark and sad", included an entry on May 13, 2014, the day before Reiha was to be interviewed by police over the nature of her relationship with Back.

The diary entry covered the anger her parents had toward Back as they slowly discovered the degree of contact between their daughter and her former teacher.

Reiha wrote about how her parents "hate his guts" and how she had heard her father say he wanted Back to "f*** off back to Canada".

Former Gisborne Intermediate teacher Sam Back and his partner Angela Mepham. Photo / Supplied
Former Gisborne Intermediate teacher Sam Back and his partner Angela Mepham. Photo / Supplied

Yet Simperingham said Reiha had written only positive reflections of her friendship with Back, with one diary entry stating: "I only hope once I'm dead they start believing me."

Told by Hinemoa McLelland that Reiha's views were based on "reliance and dependency", Simperingham said: "I suggest that reliance and dependency was because she was not getting the emotional support she needed from you."

That statement followed evidence that Hinemoa McLelland pursued postgraduate nursing study while Reiha was at intermediate. That brought an objection from the McLelland family's lawyer, Moira Macnab.

Macnab said the questions were "blaming" and particularly jarring coming from a lawyer acting for teachers censured over their inappropriate contact with Reiha.

Coroner Carla na Nagara intervened, over the "reliance and dependency" question and later when Simperingham asked Hinemoa McLelland whether her relationship with Reiha "wasn't as much of a caring and loving relationship" as the mother had thought.

Na Nagara said she had "struggled" over the way words like "blame" and "fault" had been used in the inquest. "It's quite unlike any other inquest I have been involved with."

She asked lawyers to make questions more neutral, saying the inquest was not about levelling blame but finding the reasons Reiha died. Na Nagara said she had yet to encounter a self-inflicted death which came back to a single reason.

Simperingham's questions drew concessions from Hinemoa McLelland that Reiha had reported self-harming to counsellors before an "intense relationship" with Back.

He earlier referred to a letter written by Hinemoa McLelland to the teachers' tribunal in which she quoted a statement, apparently from a psychiatrist who had treated Reiha. In the letter she wrote that the psychiatrist believed: "I have no doubt in my mind this is sexual grooming."

Simperingham asked: "You attribute the whole of the blame [for Reiha's death] to Mr Back?"

She replied: "Completely."

Simperingham pointed to Hinemoa McLelland's view changing over time, which she acknowledged. She said it changed as she and her husband, Bruce McLelland, learned more about the involvement of Back and Mepham.

Simperingham had suggested to Hinemoa McLelland there was no sexual aspect to the relationship and that Back and Mepham had given her daughter "emotional support" instead.

She replied: "I hear what you're saying but why did it need to be in secret? I'm annoyed a 41-year-old man is having an inappropriate relationship with my 13-year-old daughter behind my back."

A police investigation into the relationship between Back and Reiha did not lead to any charges being laid.

The Gisborne Crown prosecutor Steve Manning is questioning Hinemoa McLelland over criticism of police.

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