Politicians have snubbed closing a legal loophole said to put children at risk despite the urging of the coroner who investigated the suicide of a teenage girl and the intense relationship she had with a former teacher.

Coroner Carla Na Nagara said those banned from professional bodies - such as struck off teachers - should be under a compulsion to declare the ban if they attempted to work with children.

She recommended the law be changed after hearing evidence about the close relationship between Reiha McLelland, 13, and her teacher Sam Back, 43.

Reiha took her life in 2014 four months after being banned from contact with Back, who had taught her at Gisborne Intermediate. Na Nagara found the relationship with Back, which saw 4000 text messages exchanged in three months, was the "most startling of the factual matrix" preceding it.


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The office of Minister for Children Tracey Martin confirmed the last government had received advice saying there was little point in making the change recommended by the coroner. The same position had been adopted by the new Government.

Martin's office said changes had been made but not those recommended by the coroner.

A spokesman said work had been done by the previous government to extend the "safety checking" parts of the Vulnerable Children Act extended to include non-teaching staff at schools and early learning services.

It had been passed by the current Government in March this year.

He said the previous government had been told the recommended change "wasn't necessary" because existing checks allowed those hiring people to work with children could spot any gaps in work history and ask questions.

Na Nagara said the Vulnerable Children Act, passed the year Reiha died, only compelled those who were members of professional bodies, such as the Education Council, to declare their involvement so they could be checked out.

But the law was silent on those who had been kicked out of those groups. Back was struck off as a teacher after a hearing before the Education Council.

Na Nagara said: "If a person has been subject of serious disciplinary action by a professional body there is a real chance that they will no longer belong to that body.

Hinemoa and Bruce McLelland, whose daughter Reiha took her life in August 2014. Photo / Alan Gibson
Hinemoa and Bruce McLelland, whose daughter Reiha took her life in August 2014. Photo / Alan Gibson

"The disciplinary action and the conduct to which it pertains, will not be brought to the attention of the entity undertaking the safety check."

The recommended change would see those people wanting to work with children having to declare the organisations to which they previously belonged.

Reiha's parents, Bruce and Hinemoa McLelland, supported the recommended change because of concerns Back would seek out other roles where he had close contact with children.

The impact of Reiha's death emerged again today with the publication of an Independent Police Conduct Authority report which criticised the police investigation into her relationship with Back.

It found the investigation was marred by a failure to properly assess evidence, leads which were not followed, a conflict of interest which was not managed and inadequate supervision of the inquiry.

Back has always denied any wrongdoing, saying he sought to help Reiha as she struggled with a difficult period in life.

Timeline: From Back to the end


February: Reiha goes into Sam Back's Year 8 class at Gisborne Intermediate.

September: Back and Reiha begin communicating outside of school.

October: Reiha stays the night at the house Back shares with partner Angie Mepham - the first of many times she stayed over.


April: Concerns about Reiha's wellbeing lead to text messaging with Back being discovered. Police are called.

June: Police inquiry finished - no charges.

July: On the last day of the month, Reiha inflicted unsurvivable injuries on herself.

August: Life support is removed from Reiha.


June: Police complete a secret review of its handling of the investigation into Back.

September: Inquest into Reiha's death begins.

December: With intermittent hearings, the inquest finishes.


June: Coroner Carla na Nagara issues her ruling. She does not find Reiha's death was Back's fault but says his relationship with Reiha was the "primary stressor to Reiha in the last three months of her life".


December: The IPCA releases a report, critical of police on a number of counts.

Former teacher Sam Back, struck off as a teacher after the discovery of his contact with Reiha McLelland, 13. Photo / Supplied
Former teacher Sam Back, struck off as a teacher after the discovery of his contact with Reiha McLelland, 13. Photo / Supplied


If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.


LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (available 24/7)
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