WARNING: This story contains graphic information about child abuse and neglect that could be upsetting or triggering. Please take care.
A West Auckland couple have been jailed for keeping their children "like caged animals" in a case of abuse and neglect described by a judge as "despicable and sickening".
The children aged 9, 3 and 1 were barely fed or washed for almost a year, forced to stay in their rooms under threat of violence and lived in squalor amid piles of food scraps, soiled nappies and general household rubbish so high that beds and windows were hidden.
Both parents were heavy methamphetamine users and the court heard that the mother was seriously abused by her partner and was effectively too battered by him to look after the children.
To protect the three children, the Herald cannot name the parents.
Both were sentenced to almost four years in prison for their offending which Judge Nevin Dawson said was "abysmal" and had a "major and profound" impact on the health and development of the children.
The couple first appeared in the Auckland District Court in late 2015 after the abuse of the children was discovered.
The Herald has been following the case since then and can now publish details of the wretched offending.
In 2015 the children were removed from the couple's care and they were soon charged.
The couple each faced three charges of ill-treatment or neglect of a child.
The father also faced three charges of assaulting a child and one of assault with intent to injure.
Some of his charges were representative - meaning the offending happened on more than one occasion.
The father was sentenced in March 2017.
The mother was not sentenced until February this year after she failed to appear in court and went on the run.
As a result she was also convicted on a raft of other charges including giving false details to police, failing to stop, escaping custody, resisting arrest, drug possession and breaching bail.
The Herald then had a lengthy wait to access the court file - an application that was only granted this week.
Court documents reveal Judge Dawson sentenced both offenders and outlined the "abysmal" conditions the children had lived in for much of their short lives.
From about September 2014 he started beating the children - his daughter then aged 9 and his sons 3 and 1.
On one occasion he punched the little girl in the stomach and swore at her for not setting the table.
Another time he stood on her stomach as she lay on a mattress in her room then punched her in the stomach, telling her "that's what she got" for whatever had annoyed him at the time.
He also picked her up by the neck and held her against a wall so she could not breathe when she did not respond quickly enough to a request, threatening to chop out her tongue if she told her mother.
He shut a door on his 3-year-old son's head repeatedly, punched him in the head and regularly slapped the boy on his backside.
Judge Dawson said family life "deteriorated" in the middle of 2015.
"Food scraps, soiled nappies and general household rubbish remained where they lay and no attempt was made to clean the house," he said.
"Other items of discarded property began to accumulate, similar to inorganic rubbish piles, and these were stored at the address in all rooms.
"The interior of the house became so cluttered that the windows in some of the bedrooms could not be reached and beds could not be seen from the build up of debris and rubbish.
"Despite the availability of some food, cooked or edible food became scarce, especially nutritious food and the children were forced to get their own food within the house and lived largely on white bread and whatever spreads were available.
At times though, even the white bread was scarce.
"The daughter described how she would prepare meals with bread or toast for her and her brothers but there were times when they were detained in their rooms and they weren't allowed to leave, so hunger would set in," he said
"To counter this, she sneaked bread and the toaster into her room to provided food for herself and her two brothers.
"The children were regularly sent to their rooms for any reason and had to remain there for hours for fear of physical punishment in case they left."
Clean laundry became "unavailable" and the children were constantly dressed in filthy clothing.
"Bathing became irregular to the state of being non-existent - with the daughter describing that she showered about five times a year and her brothers twice a month," said Judge Dawson.
When the children were taken from the couple, they were described as looking "as if they were homeless people who had lived on the street".
"They were described as dirty and rough looking, their clothes were described as rags that were fit for a rubbish bin," Judge Dawson revealed.
It took nearly a week to clean the girl's scalp of "ingrained filth" and the elder of the boys, then 4, was still wearing a nappy and could not speak coherently.
When the children went to live with their grandmother they were "absolutely filthy, smelly, starving and dishevelled".
Judge Dawson said all three children have ongoing hygiene, behavioural and developmental issues.
"It is fair to say that the community would not tolerate having caged animals being treated in the manner you treated these children," he said.
"Your treatment of them was despicable and sickening."
The father admitted the offending and said he was "extremely remorseful" and "openly distraught" about the harm he had caused.
He said his offending came as a result of methamphetamine use and a "damaged mental state" due to drug consumption.
The mother also blamed her offending on her methamphetamine addiction, and the court heard that she had a troubled life.
At 12, the result of "circumstances relating to her mother's marriage" she was taken into Child Youth and Family care .
For three years she was shuffled around various girls' homes.
During that time she was raped, and as a result gave birth to her first child when she was just 15.
The same year she was able to return to live with her mother.
At 17, she met the man who would lead her to prison.
At 19 he introduced her to cannabis and when she was 25, he got her hooked on meth.
By then, they had two more children - but it seems neither was able to cope with parenthood.
Their lives were punctuated by violence, often recorded by police, and hard drugs.
In late 2015 the woman's mother intervened, taking the children from the house.
Court documents stated the rental property was "extensively damaged" with holes in walls and doors and needed "a total renovation" including replacing floors and ceilings.
Soon after her mother took her children, the woman was kicked out of the rented house and ended up living on the streets.
A pre-sentence report provided to the Herald revealed the relationship was "extremely toxic" and he was "abusive and controlling".
"She wanted to leave the relationship but he manipulated her psychologically and physically," the report said.
"(He) has strong connections to the Head Hunters with who he threatened her and her family.
"It was clear that the combination of her ex-partner's behaviour towards her over a lengthy period and her use of methamphetamine to cope with the stress in her life were major factors in her offending.
When he beat and abused the children, because of the control he had over her, she was "impotent to intervene", the report said.
A letter in the court file from prison chaplaincy services, written after an interview with the woman while she was on remand awaiting sentencing, described the relationship between her and her now-ex partner as "brutal".
It said the woman was "battered" and had "rationalised she should remain hidden and silent" rather than stand up for her children or herself.
"(She) apologises for herself, her circumstances, her choices and her predicament and is used to being subservient to others with authority and power over her," it said.
While he acknowledged the woman's struggles, he said none of her circumstances or choices excused what she had done
Judge Dawson said the proper care and upbringing of children in New Zealand was "paramount".
"You abysmally failed in your duty towards your own children," he said to the mother.
"It must have had a major and profound impact upon their development and their health.
"It is an abuse of trust …. and your abuse was gross.
"They were left uncared for like caged animals for up to 11 months.
"They were vulnerable and they were victims of brutal attacks … and you took no steps to stop those attacks.
Judge Dawson acknowledged the abuse the woman had been subjected to, but said her lack of care for her own children was "inexcusable".
"All indications are that you have a methamphetamine addiction and your life is completely out of control.
"Quite frankly, going to prison may be the best chance of saving your life."
Judge Dawson sentenced the man to three years and 10 months in prison, and the woman to three years and six months.
Detective Senior Sergeant Megan Goldie said it was a tragic case.
"These matters are incredibly difficult for all involved to deal with as nobody ever wants to see children being treated in this way, or living in these types of conditions."
It was not an isolated case, Goldie said.
"We strongly encourage all members of our community who are worried for a child's welfare not to be afraid to speak up."
Are you worried about the safety of a child?
If you have concerns about the immediate safety of a child, call 111.
Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list.
Or, contact Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children on 0508 326 459 for advice or click here to visit the agency's website for more information.