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Northland mother on trial for ill-treating her nine children

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The Crown says a group of Northland children were assaulted and neglected by their drug-using parents, who often left them to fend for themselves, including looking after a baby. Photo / NZME

Nine children were regularly assaulted, starved as punishment, and deprived of basic necessities including nappies, sanitary products, and schooling at the hands of their parents.

That’s the Crown allegation to a jury at the start of the trial of the children’s mother, who is charged with assault, neglect, and ill-treatment.

The Northland woman and her partner are alleged to have constantly used drugs – methamphetamine and cannabis – often in front of the children who ranged in age from 17 to less than a year old, a jury in the Kaikohe District Court was told on Monday.

Opening the Crown’s case against the children’s mother, Prosecutor Ally Tupuola read snapshots of the children’s evidence she said the jury could expect to hear more of as the case continued over the next week and a half.

“They [our parents] would lock themselves in their room and smoke crack and we’d have to look after the kids,” one child told the Crown.

“Sometimes there wouldn’t even be food in the cupboards for the baby. Dad would rather spend money on drugs. I used to go to town and steal food for [my siblings], like pies and stuff.”

Tupuola said the child told of times when he and his brothers would have to stand at the wall and “if we moved, we would get a hiding”.

“They would starve us for three or four days. We looked after the baby when Mum and Dad were on the ‘stuff’.

“My sister went without nappies for three or four days. We would use my brother’s undies. One day they [my parents] went away for two days straight – we didn’t know where they were.”

The prosecutor said the children’s evidence was that they would “get hidings every day” from their parents.

“Mum uses a wooden spoon or a plastic spoon or a knife. She smacked us with the knife.

“We would get smacks and hidings if we don’t listen. I got kicked three times by Mum.

“They pick up broomsticks and keep smacking us when we make kai. Sometimes they keep smacking us with real sticks … When we make a mess we get a hiding. I cry when I get a hiding.”

The boy’s evidence detailed an incident during which his mother, in her 30s, grabbed a broken axe handle and whacked it across his brother’s legs.

“He couldn’t walk for a couple of days.”

One of the children also alleged they were assaulted by their mother while she wore boxing gloves.

The accused has pleaded not guilty to 28 charges alleging various assaults, neglect and ill-treatment of the children – some of whom were her own, and some of them her stepchildren.

She cannot be named due to automatic suppression that applies to child witnesses and complainants.

Tupuola said every child in New Zealand had the right to grow up free from abuse – be it physical, psychological or emotional. Every child should be able to live safely and securely in their home.

But for some children abuse visits them – ill-treatment and neglect happen to them, even at the hands of their own parents as was the case for these children, the jury was told.

The alleged offending is said to have happened between 2016 and 2019 when the family lived at three Northland locations.

Tupuola said the couple had 10 children, with the charges relating to nine of them, but not the youngest.

The most serious of the assault charges was one of injuring with intent to injure relating to one of the accused’s daughters whose finger the Crown alleges was deliberately burnt over a gas burner by her mother.

In an opening statement for the defence, counsel Martin Hislop urged the jury to keep an open mind.

“The Crown case sounds “pretty grim” but please don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t judge her [the mother] until you’ve heard everything,” Hislop said.

The nature of the charges and because the complainants were children could easily lead to prejudice but jurors had to put that aside.

“You have to analyse the facts and put any sympathy aside. You have to be cold-hearted fact finders,” Hislop said.

The children’s father was also charged in relation to the offending but his case has been dealt with separately.

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