EXCLUSIVE: A teenage boy wrongly accused of rape went to prison protesting his innocence. A year later, the so-called victim recanted the allegations. But the confession didn’t come to light for another 10 years. Jared Savage investigates.

For his 17th birthday, Patrick got a box of Roses, a koala key ring and a rape conviction.

On the koala's paws are stamped the words "Good Luck".

"I still have that koala as a reminder of how my life was ruined," says Patrick, who turns 31 next month.

Branded a dangerous sex predator as a teenager, considered remorseless for refusing to admit wrongdoing, Patrick* was sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit.

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His constant claims of innocence counted against his rehabilitation and undermined his chances of parole. So he served every day of his 4 ½ year sentence.

But his prison time was far from over. He spent most of the next seven years bouncing in and out of prison for tripping up on the strict release conditions accompanying his status as a sex offender.

Simply saying hello to a child was enough for him to be locked up again.

By the end of 2016, Patrick had been behind bars for breaching the release conditions almost as long as the original rape sentence.

Incredibly, although his "victim" confessed to making up the allegations of sexual assault a year after Patrick was convicted, the miscarriage of justice remained hidden for another decade.

"I told everyone I was innocent," says Patrick. "How did I go from being the victim to the villain?"

His story begins in Waikato Hospital, where he was born in December 1987, the eldest child; he had a younger brother and two little sisters.

Childhood was unstable. He remembers moving around. Booze and drugs were as common at home as milk or bread for other families.

By the age of 4, Patrick had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of two male relatives.

His own father was violent; a "boot up the arse" or hidings with the jug cord for the kids, closed fists for his mother.

"Drugs, alcohol and cigarettes came first, second and third for dad," says Patrick.

"Mum tried her best to keep us safe. A roof over our heads, food in our stomach."

His parents split when Patrick was 6 or 7.

Their home was trashed after one final act of violence, so Patrick and his siblings went into state care.

"Mum said she just needed a week to clean the place up. One week turned into two, two into three. Eight, nine years later we were still in foster homes", says Patrick.

The siblings were shifted to live with relatives in rural Waikato. It was Patrick's longest Child Youth and Family placement and, he says, the "worst part of our lives".

"We were out of the frying pan and into the fire. We were scared shitless and on edge most of the time."

Nine children were in the care of a married couple, a blend of their own children, grandchildren and foster children like Patrick.

The children often had to fend for themselves while the caregivers drank or played bingo with neighbours.

When they were being supervised by adults, it was to make sure they were doing their chores.

Cleaning the house, mowing the lawns, or working around the farm - there wasn't any time to play with friends, no toys.

The foster children were treated poorly, says Patrick, certainly compared to the couple's own children.

Any gifts or clothing they were given were confiscated and handed to the couple's children.

When the other kids picked on them Patrick and his siblings were punished for standing up for themselves.

"No matter who was right, or wrong, we would always get done for it."

As was the case when living with their own parents, Patrick and his siblings were beaten regularly.

But even worse was the sexual abuse.

In the middle of the night, the male caregiver woke the children and touched them. He made them touch each other. He allowed his son to touch them.

The cycle of abuse spiralled into a pattern of destructive behaviour which eventually put Patrick in prison.

"It's f***** me up big time. It's f***** up my brother and sisters big time ... no one talks about it, we just bury it."

When Patrick was 13 or 14, the siblings were split up and sent to different homes.

His next caregivers were kind, says Patrick, but unable to deal with him.

He was angry, frustrated - getting into fights at school, smoking drugs, staying out late.

So again, he was packed up, this time to Felix Donnelly College in Auckland, a school for children in the care of Child Youth and Family (CYF) with serious behavioural and emotional problems.

And that's where he met Mark.

'He put his hand on me and I just snapped'

Of a similar age, they were living in a home run by the Youthlink Family Trust, an organisation contracted to CYF to care for troublesome teens.

They didn't get along and had to be separated.

Their caregivers, Leo and Karla van de Geer, put the rivalry down to Mark being jealous of Patrick's close relationship with Don McNaughton.

McNaughton also worked at Youthlink, where he organised work experience for troubled teens.

Kids flocked to McNaughton, who took them out on his farm and let them muck around on the quad bike.

When Mark came along, McNaughton was still spending one-on-one time with Patrick and was proud of his progress.

"There was a bit of a personality clash between [the teenage boys] about who 'owned' Don," Leo van de Geer later told a court.

Mark would taunt Patrick, said Karla van de Geer, by saying; "He [McNaughton] doesn't want to work with you, that's why he's working with me now."

Everything came to a head on Easter Sunday 2004.

Patrick was watching kapa haka on television in the lounge when Mark told him to turn around.

He and a third boy were touching each other, says Patrick. They asked him to join in.

"I told them to 'shut the f*** up' or I'd beat them up. I just tried to zone out."

Patrick says the third boy came towards him.

"He put his hand on me and I just snapped. I hit him."

Mark and the other boy went away. Five minutes later Leo van de Geer walked into the room.

The others had accused Patrick of punching the third boy - which he admitted promptly - but also of touching him inappropriately.

"One thing led to another and I absolutely lost the plot."

He picked up the television and threw it, breaking the wall. He smashed a window in his bedroom, then went outside, grabbed a spade and smashed two more windows.

He was looking for the other two boys, threatening to hurt them.

Finally, Patrick threw the spade through the kitchen window, so had it lodged sideways in a wall.

He was kicked out of Felix Donnelly College.

Felix Donnelly College was a school for students with serious emotional and behavioural problems. Photo / Chris Skelton.
Felix Donnelly College was a school for students with serious emotional and behavioural problems. Photo / Chris Skelton.

Patrick went to live in Hamilton. Mark went to live with Don McNaughton - the source of his jealousy towards Patrick - and his partner Patricia Thrupp.

The next month, Patrick was arrested. Then 16, he thought it was because of his violent outburst in Auckland.

But soon after moving in with McNaughton and Thrupp, Mark made some disturbing allegations. Thrupp alerted CYF, who told the police.

Mark accused Patrick of raping him at knifepoint and forcing him to perform sex acts on him.

Angrily, Patrick denied allegations put to him in sustained and graphic detail by a detective.

But while Patrick was adamant Mark's allegations were an ugly lie, the investigation also uncovered an ugly truth.

A younger female relative said Patrick (15 at the time) had touched her through her underwear twice.

"Yes, I did that to her," he told the Weekend Herald. "That's something I have a hard time dealing with."

A psychological report for the Corrections Department said Patrick's sexual behaviour was modelled from pornography and the sexual abuse he suffered.

"When both he and [his victim] became victims of sexual offences, [Patrick] internalised this sexual behaviour as acceptable," the report says.

Even now, Patrick struggles with psychologists trying to explain his behaviour. While his own abuse might be a reason, he doesn't want an excuse.

"The counsellors say 'it's not your fault', or 'you were just acting on what happened to you', or 'you thought this was affection'," says Patrick.

"When I was a kid, I might not have understood why I did that. But deep down you still have an understanding, an instinct, of right and wrong. And it was wrong."

Patrick pleaded guilty to indecent assault on a girl younger than 12 and wilful damage to the van de Geers' home.

On eight other charges - one more of indecent assault against the same girl, seven stemming from Mark's allegations - Patrick maintained his innocence.

His trial took place in the Hamilton District Court in December 2004.

On the fourth day, the jury retired. It was also Patrick's 17th birthday.

His lawyer, Brandt Shortland, was confident of an acquittal and told him not to worry.

Defence lawyer Brandt Shortland, now Deputy Chief Coroner, was criticised by the Court of Appeal. Photo / Northern Advocate.
Defence lawyer Brandt Shortland, now Deputy Chief Coroner, was criticised by the Court of Appeal. Photo / Northern Advocate.

While waiting for the jury, Shortland gave him a birthday present: a box of Roses chocolates and the "Good Luck" koala keyring.

Then knock, knock, knock on the door. The jury was ready.

"Guilty, guilty, guilty," says Patrick. He was convicted of all but two charges, including the two most serious offences of rape.

"I remember like it was yesterday. I didn't know what to think. I had to be escorted to the cells, I just broke down ... crying ... saying I was innocent."

A probation report said he was co-operative in the interview and highlighted his "unfortunate and abusive childhood" but noted his ongoing denials.

At sentencing, this did him no favours with Judge Merelina Burnett.

"It is concerning that the prisoner shows little or no remorse for the offending, refusing to even accept that it occurred," her judgment said.

"Unless rehabilitation during the imprisonment period is achieved, in my view the prisoner will remain a violent and dangerous sexual predator or aggressor and careful assessment must be made at the time of his parole."

Patrick was sentenced him to 4½ years in prison. It was more of a life sentence.

'I didn't trust anyone'

The 17-year-old shut himself off, ignoring fellow inmates and refusing to let anyone into his inner circle.

"I didn't trust anybody. I was the victim, yet there I was sitting in a cell classified as a rapist, a sex offender."

Because he kept denying his crimes, participating in sexual offender treatment programmes was difficult.

So he was declined early release by the Parole Board. In 2005, 2006 and 2007 he was still deemed too much of a risk to the public.

He was mistakenly under the impression he would be in prison forever unless he agreed to do the Kia Marama sex offender course in Christchurch.

"I struggled ... sitting in a room to say 'I'm guilty, this is what I've done' ... putting myself in the shoes of a victim for something that never happened … just to get myself out."

While he graduated from the rehab programme, his internal conflict was noted by the psychologist in the group sessions.

"Victim empathy has been limited to female victim and continues to lack an emotional empathic appreciation for the male victim ... remains superficial and appears to be limited by perceived injustice towards himself."

Patrick served every day of his sentence.

With his release date looming in November 2008, Corrections staff maintained that Patrick was a significant risk to the public.

So a District Court judge imposed an Extended Supervision Order (ESO).

Such orders allow Corrections to monitor highest-risk offenders for up to 10 years.

Naturally Patrick was not allowed to contact his alleged victims, or anyone else under the age of 16. He was also ordered to have counselling and take part in relapse prevention therapy.

Written approval from his probation officer was needed to start a new job or change his address, even stay away overnight.

Aged 20, Patrick left prison far from free and moved into an approved residence in Hamilton.

By the end of the day, he breached the ESO - simply by having a meal at a church where children were present.

Patrick explained he had been taken to the church and was so disturbed to see children, he took his meal outside. So concerned about the ESO, he ate only half his food and ran home.

This started a pattern which saw Patrick bounced in and out of prison, mostly for technical breaches.

One was failing to show up to a group therapy - "I hate sitting in there with those kiddie f******" was his reply to probation officer - resulting in a nine-month prison sentence.

His compliance was noted as "extremely poor" by the Parole Board - 14 breaches by October 2013 - which tightened his conditions even further with 24/7 GPS monitoring.

This was despite Patrick's lawyer Kristy Li pointing out there had been no sexual offending, or even a suggestion of sexual intent, in his breaches.

"He again painted himself as the victim and tried to talk down the questioning board member to the point when we had no option but to adjourn the hearing," the Parole Board report says.

The following year, an independent psychologist recommended Patrick be treated for the sexual abuse he suffered - rather than therapy for the crimes he was convicted of.

Otherwise, Amanda McFadden warned: "There is a very real risk of the pattern of breach and remand recurring and the longer term benefits of the ESO (public safety and rehabilitation) will be lost."

However, Patrick didn't get the help he needed and kept going back to prison. And in the view of the authorities, his ongoing denials of the sexual offending against Mark remained a barrier to rehabilitation.

"I would go to my grave saying I was innocent," says Patrick. "So I was back to square one, again."

A turning point

It was September 2015 before Patrick left square one.

He was playing touch rugby in the yard at Waikeria Prison near Te Awamutu when he was called into a room.

Three lawyers, all strangers, were sitting across a table. They explained that Mark, the boy whose allegations put him in prison, was seeking government compensation for abuse in state care.

While investigating the civil claim, the lawyers said the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) had uncovered evidence that could help prove Patrick's innocence.

Mark had recanted the rape accusations against Patrick he made soon after moving in with Don McNaughton and Patricia Thrupp.

The couple had supported Mark throughout Patrick's trial, although 12 months later their relationship had deteriorated to the point that Mark was moving out.

"I will never forget the night before Mark left," Thrupp said in her affidavit sworn for the civil case.

The couple were sitting with Mark in the lounge of the woolshed they had converted into a home on their farm.

The 17-year-old was angry after McNaughton confronted him about packing some items that belonged to them.

"Mark said, 'You know about Patrick and what he did?' And I replied, Yes'. Mark then said, 'Well, you know he never actually raped me'," wrote Thrupp.

Her husband recalled Mark saying "it was all shit about Patrick".

His justification? Jealousy over Patrick's relationship with McNaughton.

"As soon as Mark said that it was like someone punching me in the chest," wrote Thrupp.

"I thought 'I've been had, he's lied to me all along'. I was so affected by what he said; it made me feel sick and stunned.

Mark left the next morning, a Friday; Thrupp couldn't bring herself to hug him goodbye.

The conversation consumed her over the weekend. As soon as she went to work on Monday morning, Thrupp called Brandt Shortland, Patrick's lawyer.

"I was very clear to Mr Shortland that Mark had said to me that Patrick never raped him and I said that I was really worried that Patrick had taken the rap for something he hadn't done," Thrupp wrote in her affidavit.

"I remember Mr Shortland told me 'I wouldn't worry about it' or words to that effect. He said Patrick had nearly finished his sentence and that he's 'a very sick boy'.

"After the conversation ended, I left it at that. I believed my involvement was at an end."

But if Thrupp thought her conversation would soon right the wrongful conviction of Patrick, she was mistaken.

It would not be for another 10 years that her call to Shortland would come to light.

It was not until the MSD investigated Mark's claim for compensation that the evidence that would eventually free Patrick surfaced.

Sitting in that room at Waikeria, reading affidavits by McNaughton and Thrupp for the first time, Patrick felt relief. Then rage.

"I absolutely lost the plot. The prison officers had to escort me out.

"I told people for years, 'I'm innocent'. But if Mark hadn't claimed for compensation, would this have even come out?"

Barrister Phil Hamlin took the case to the Court of Appeal. Photo / Supplied.
Barrister Phil Hamlin took the case to the Court of Appeal. Photo / Supplied.

Patrick's case was taken up by Auckland barrister Phil Hamlin, a former Crown prosecutor who specialised in sexual assault cases.

"I was concerned by what I read. I was very concerned nothing had been done for so long."

'Disappointing and most unfortunate'

Hamlin took it to the Court of Appeal, which found Patrick had suffered a miscarriage of justice and quashed the convictions stemming from his 2005 trial.

The court found it was unfair for the jury to hear evidence from Mark and the young girl in the same trial.

Another "compelling" reason for its finding was the evidence of Thrupp and McNaughton, who were both cross-examined in front of Justices Rhys Harrison, John Wild and Forrest Miller.

"It quickly became apparent each was a person of complete integrity and forthrightness," the panel of senior judges said, dismissing Mark's claim he couldn't remember recanting the rape claims.

The Court of Appeal also accepted that Thrupp alerted Shortland to Mark's confession all those years ago.

"The fact that Mr Shortland took no steps in response is, to say the least, disappointing and most unfortunate."

Shortland said he could not remember many details about Patrick's case including Thrupp's "very serious" allegation, according to his affidavit on the court file.

Shortland, now a Coroner in Whangarei, declined to comment further to the Weekend Herald.

When convictions are overturned, the Court of Appeal often orders a new trial. Not this time.

There were several reasons, perhaps most significantly that the court didn't think a second prosecution would be successful.

"We have considerable doubts as to whether the Crown could secure a guilty verdict on any retrial...we say that because Mark's evidence is critical but has been exposed as unsatisfactory."

With his convictions quashed, the ESO that weighed on Patrick like a dark cloud was lifted.

He was, finally, a free man.

'I think it's extraordinary'

Patrick was in Spring Hill Prison when he got the good news from Phil Hamlin.

"I felt like the king of the world. Invincible...I don't know how to explain it, but for one day, everything that happened to me was gone," he says of his release in March 2017.

Next month, he will turn 31. Yet another anniversary of the day he was handed a koala bear key ring and a rape conviction.

It will be 14 years since his life was turned upside. He's a free man now, but not free of his past.

He still bears the psychological scars of his childhood and most of his adult years in prison.

It's hard to get a job, or a roof over his head.

Even if potential employers understand his complicated life, he has no formal education or employment CV to fall back on.

Renting a house is hard too, as background checks still pick up his criminal history. It's just too difficult to explain away in a short conversation with landlords.

"I thought it would be easier on the outside, but to be honest it's harder," says Patrick. "Sometimes I think i'll do something bad and go back to jail, what I know best."

He's trying his best to be optimistic. He's got a partner and they live together with one of his aunts in the Manawatu. Hopeful of a job in the freezing works, Patrick is trying to move on, but it's hard to shake his past.

Resentment lingers over the lies of Mark, the trusted adults who let him down, his years in prison, how long it took for the truth to come out.

But his deepest anger is reserved for Child Youth and Family and his suffering in state care. In his words, they took him "out of the frying pan and into the fire".

Phil Hamlin is now looking into whether Patrick is eligible for compensation for wrongful conviction, and, ironically, a separate claim against the state for abuse in CYF care.

Because of his youth and the relatively minor nature of the indecent assault Patrick admitted to, Hamlin said his client would not have gone to prison.

So most of his youth was spent in prison because of Mark's now discredited rape allegations.

"I think it's extraordinary it's taken so long to be sorted out," said Hamlin.

"The consequences have been huge. It's wrecked his life."

As for Patrick, he doesn't really care about any compensation money.

"All I just want is for people to believe me. Then I can move on."

• Patrick and Mark are not their real names which are suppressed by the Court of Appeal.

Read more crime investigations by Jared Savage:

The Misery of Marie

Operation Ark: Inside NZ's $50m designer drug ring

Railside Dairy Killer: How we raised a ticking bomb

Timeline of a miscarriage of justice

1987: Born in Waikato, eldest of four children.
1993: Parents separate, placed into CYF care.
2004: Transfered to Felix Donnelly College. Convicted of sex charges, including rape, at trial.
2005: Sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison. Boy who accused him of rape recants allegations to husband and wife caregivers. Wife tells defence lawyer.
2008: Released from prison but subject to strict conditions of Extended Supervision Order.
2009: Breaches ESO and jailed.
2010: Breaches ESO and jailed.
2011: Breaches ESO and jailed.
2013: More ESO conditions imposed, including GPS monitoring.
2014: Breaches ESO and jailed.
2015: Caregivers sign affidavits about recanted rape allegations.
2017: Court of Appeal quashes convictions, orders no retrial