Sunday, February 15, 2004

Rotorua police district damned in report

Sunday Star Times
February 15, 2004
Rotorua police district damned in report
By Rachel Grunwell

An official investigation into police mishandling of a rape complaint criticised at least one officer and named others who have come under fire in the Louise Nicholas inquiry. It shows that police headquarters have long been aware of failures by officers stationed in the Rotorua policing district at the time Nicholas claims her rape complaints were mishandled. The inquiry was into the mishandling of a complaint of rape made by Rhondda Herbert-Savage in the 1980s, and was carried out by then-detective inspector Graham Bell. It damns the handling of her inquiry and the police culture in Murupara, part of the Rotorua district, at the time.

Herbert-Savage allowed the Sunday Star-Times to help her lift her name suppression in the High Court at Rotorua last Friday. She said she wanted the suppression automatically accorded to sex attack victims lifted to let her childhood friend Nicholas know she was not alone. Nicholas has accused three men - assistant commissioner Clint Rickards and two former officers Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum - of raping her in a Rotorua house in 1986. The three deny the rape claims and say the sex was consensual. The officer in charge of the police re-investigation into Nicholas' claims, superintendent Nick Perry, said eight officers from outside Rotorua had started interviewing people connected with the allegations. Thirty people had been interviewed already in the Bay of Plenty including Nicholas, who was questioned on Friday, twice yesterday and will undergo more interviews this week. Rickards, Schollum and Shipton were yet to be questioned.

Herbert-Savage, then aged 14, complained to police in 1981 she had been raped twice. In his report to headquarters, written in 1996, Bell wrote that the man accused of the rape was friends with police officers at the time, and that police handling of the complaint was "woefully inadequate". He singled out the actions of then constable Trevor Clayton, to whom Herbert-Savage initially complained, as "a gross neglect of duty". Clayton, who died last year, is recorded in police documents regarding the Nicholas case as being prepared, on oath, to "protect his mates" if asked about her in court. "It is clear at the time police did nothing whatsoever about this (Herbert-Savage's) complainant," Bell wrote in his report. Bob Schollum was also interviewed by Bell. Another officer, who won name suppression after being acquitted of sex charges, was also interviewed by Bell. He has also been named in connection with the Nicholas inquiry. The Murupara station's boss at the time, sergeant Warren Smith, was also criticised over the Herbert-Savage case. Smith was transferred from Murupara for disciplinary reasons following a police internal finding of dereliction of duty, but it is not known what this related to. One of the officers at this tribunal hearing described Smith's attitude in refusing to take action as "typical of the sergeant at the time". However, Bell said Smith had been rehabilitated since these incidents and went on to perform duties to a satisfactory standard. Smith perfed from the police only weeks ago.

East Coast MP Janet Mackey is delivering Herbert-Savage's case files to Attorney-General Margaret Wilson's office tomorrow to see if they could be included in the commission of inquiry. The terms of the inquiry are due tomorrow.

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