WARNING: This article deals with suicide and may be upsetting.


The mother of Nicky Stevens, who died while in mental health care, says a district health board's apology for her son's death is the first time in 4 1/2 years it has taken responsibility for the tragedy.

"They have acknowledged their part in contributing to Nicky's death, and we've never had that before," Jane Stevens says.

Yesterday, following a seven-hour mediation between Nicky's whānau and Waikato District Health Board, the DHB issued a heartfelt apology to the family and withdrew its complaint to the Solicitor-General over a Coroner's inquest into the death.

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Nicholas Taiaroa Macpherson Stevens died in March 2015 after leaving Waikato Hospital's Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre on unescorted leave, against the express direction of his parents.

In December last year Coroner Wallace Bain found the 21-year-old's suicide was avoidable and that his treatment by the DHB fell well short of what he and his parents would have expected.

Nicky Stevens was found dead in the Waikato River three days after leaving the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre on unescorted leave. Photo / Supplied
Nicky Stevens was found dead in the Waikato River three days after leaving the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre on unescorted leave. Photo / Supplied

After the finding Stevens and Nicky's father Dave Macpherson - then a DHB board member - demanded an apology and compensation.

Instead the DHB's lawyer Paul White wrote to the Solicitor- General asking for a new coroner to be appointed to preside over a second inquest, citing "procedural issues" with Bain's inquest.

Macpherson said the attempt by the DHB to overturn the Coroner's finding that Nicky's death was avoidable "was one of the most shocking and hurtful things that has happened to us since Nicky's death".

"The fact that this has gone, and that we've received a proper apology from the DHB, means we can now get on with our lives, and better support our other son and grandchildren."

Stevens said the U-turn, under the new direction of Commissioner Dr Karen Poutasi, together with a "heartfelt and sincere" apology was a welcome relief.

"For a family that's huge. That enables us to get some sense of closure and to be able to move forward."

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Nicky Stevens' whānau, father Dave Macpherson, brother Tony Stevens and mother Jane Stevens, are relieved to finally have an apology for his death after 4 1/2 years. Photo / Natalie Akoorie
Nicky Stevens' whānau, father Dave Macpherson, brother Tony Stevens and mother Jane Stevens, are relieved to finally have an apology for his death after 4 1/2 years. Photo / Natalie Akoorie

She said the intense focus on getting justice for Nicky and getting to the truth of what happened will now shift to their advocacy work for the families of other suicide victims in mental health care.

"The moving forward for us is around making change that means that other families won't go through this. Other people won't die. That's the legacy and the honouring that we can make for Nicky."

Stevens said she could not discuss whether the DHB had agreed to pay compensation as part of the settlement.

Bain called the outcome the right answer.

"I am delighted for the Stevens family that they don't have to go through the anguish of another inquest," he told the Herald.

"I take my hat off to the new commissioner for taking such a pragmatic stand and moving forward.

"And I hope with the new reports from the Government on mental health that our systems greatly improve."

Nicky Stevens' whānau can finally move on after receiving an apology from Waikato DHB. They now plan to continue mental health advocacy in his name. Photo / Alan Gibson
Nicky Stevens' whānau can finally move on after receiving an apology from Waikato DHB. They now plan to continue mental health advocacy in his name. Photo / Alan Gibson

Mental health advocate and New Zealander of the Year Mike King also welcomed the news but said more was needed.

"I think it's great news but the job's only half done," King said.

"They also owe Coroner Wallace Bain an apology as well. They called his reputation into question and he is a highly skilled and well thought of man and they owe him a sincere apology.

"So job half done which is typical of the Waikato DHB."

Poutasi confirmed that following mediation Waikato DHB had provided an apology to the whānau of Nicky Stevens and withdrawn its complaint to the Solicitor-General.

"Waikato DHB understands that this has been a lengthy and painful process for the family and notwithstanding our differing perspectives on some matters we are pleased that we have reached a position from which we can move forward."

When asked whether the DHB would apologise to the Coroner or whether the DHB had paid compensation to the whānau she said the DHB would not make any further comment on the matter.

Meanwhile it's unclear whether Harry Waalkens, QC, acting for the psychiatrist involved in the case, will also withdraw his support for the complaint to the Solicitor-General.

Waalkens is overseas and unavailable for comment.

Waikato DHB's full apology to Nicky Stevens' whānau

"Waikato DHB wholeheartedly apologises for the poor management of Nicky's leave from the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre, and also for the poor communication with you as whānau, both of which as found by the Coroner, contributed to Nicky's death.

"Waikato DHB acknowledges the hurt and anguish you have suffered through Nicky's death and the various events and processes since that time. We are sorry for how much you have suffered and continue to suffer."