By TONY WALL
A child-sex offender on parole for raping a girl under his care has been helping to run a Baptist Church youth group in Auckland.
Jason Thomas Wiperi has been involved with the Panmure Baptist Church group since his release from prison in August.
His wife, Natasha, is the church's youth pastor.
The group of mainly teenage children meet at the couple's home in Coates Cres, near the church, and have gone on outings that Wiperi has attended.
It is understood church leaders knew about his convictions but did not tell the congregation. Some church members thought he had burglary or assault convictions.
Wiperi, 32, raped a 15-year-old girl in the care of him and his wife in Wanganui in 1997.
Nine years earlier, also in Wanganui, he indecently assaulted a 5-year-old girl.
The cases came to court in 1999 and Wiperi pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to four years' jail.
The national leader of the Baptist Church in New Zealand, Brian Winslade, said he knew a paroled inmate was involved with the Panmure church.
But he did not know the man had child-sex convictions until the Weekend Herald contacted him.
"For a person like him to be associated now in any form with young people or children is totally unacceptable as far as the Baptist Union's position on abuse and safety is concerned," he said.
He later called back to say the youth group was disbanding and Mrs Wiperi was resigning as youth pastor.
Mr Winslade said the Panmure church had been "dysfunctional" for many years and the Baptist Union had been forced to bring "moral pressure to bear" on pastor Derek Beattie to resign over unrelated issues.
Mr Beattie put a notice in the latest church newsletter announcing his "reluctant" resignation. He has not been replaced.
It is understood Wiperi began speaking at the Panmure church, known as Harvest Church East City, while on weekend leave from prison. After his release he became closely involved in church life.
Wiperi is considered a high risk, and his parole conditions are designed to restrict his access to children.
The mother of the girl Wiperi raped said the church was "stupid" to let him have any connection with its youth group.
"He's a high risk around children. You do it once, you do it twice - what's to say you won't do it again?"
The woman said the rape was discovered only when she found her daughter's diary.
Her daughter, now 20, was getting on with life and had a partner and child, "but you never recover from things like that. It's still in the back of your mind".
The Weekend Herald confronted Wiperi at his home this week. He said it was his wife's youth group, "and I support her as best I can".
Wiperi confirmed he accompanied the group on an outing to watch a Warriors league game on television.
He said the group was made up of older children, the youngest being 16. But sources have told the Weekend Herald that children as young as 13 have attended.
Wiperi said he planned to tell the congregation about his background.
His parole officer, Ash Uniha, would not discuss the matter.
The Weekend Herald understands he was told two weeks ago about Wiperi's involvement with the youth group.
The Department of Corrections refused to discuss Wiperi, saying it could not comment on individuals.
Community probation service area manager Marie Faith-Allen said that generally the service imposed strict conditions on parolees where there might be a high risk of reoffending.
A senior member of the Panmure church, Ross Purdie, said the church was strictly monitoring the "safety guidelines" built into Wiperi's parole conditions and he did not believe they had been breached.
"The guy has done the sentence ... and now we have to keep him in a place where ... he won't be sent back to where he came from by breaching those terms of parole."
The Weekend Herald understands that problems at the Panmure church became so bad that two people, including the manager of the church kindergarten, sought restraining orders against Mr Beattie because of alleged harassment and threatening behaviour.
Mr Winslade said the Panmure congregation had plummeted from several hundred before Mr Beattie took over in 1996 to 35.
"He has been the cause of an awful lot of the problems."
Mr Beattie is overseas and could not be reached for comment.
* A convicted paedophile has left his job at Northland Health after other staff members expressed concern at his appointment.
Staff members claimed Northland Health knew of the man's conviction but employed him anyway, although not in an area dealing with children.
The Northland District Health Board refused to say whether it knew the man was a convicted paedophile when he was employed.
Spokesman Luke Worth said that from yesterday the man no longer worked for the organisation.
Mr Worth said the board had no comment to make on whether the man left of his own volition or was dismissed.
The man pleaded guilty in early 1994 to charges of unlawful sexual connection with a girl aged under 12 and with a girl aged between 12 and 16 and was jailed for 5 1/2 years.
By TONY WALL