New Zealand HeraldFebruary 7, 2004Quiet lives with dark secretsby Geoff Cumming, with reporting by Phil Taylor, Jo-Marie Brown, Ainsley Thomson and Eleanor Black
The police are facing an unprecedented crisis over allegations of rape against officers. In this comprehensive report the Weekend Herald traces how long-buried secrets have come back to life:Louise Nicholas was getting on with life. She had buried her memories of repeated rapes by policemen in Murupara, a gang-rape ordeal in Rotorua, the baton, the inquiries which ran into brick walls.She had a husband and three growing children, milking to do on a nearby farm, sheep and calves to look after and, for relaxation, horse-riding. The 36-year-old had "put in a cupboard" what she alleges went on in the 1980s.Then in early December, a curly-haired reporter arrived out of the blue at their brick home in Ngakuru. About 12 families live in this lifestyle community on a back road 30 minutes' drive south of Rotorua; they call it "the village".
It was a hot day and Nicholas sat outside with the reporter, Phil Kitchin. He had something to tell her and a thick file to show her. He explained that he started on the trail two years ago after a tip from a contact.They sat in the sun for a long time as the Dominion Post reporter explained what he knew: about Nicholas' allegation that she was gang-raped and violated with a baton by three policemen in a Rotorua police house in 1986; about the secret Police Complaints Authority inquiry into the police handling of that allegation; and her claims that she had been raped by police before, starting when she was 13.The conversation would provoke claims which raise questions not just about her treatment by police but which cut to the core of police culture and attitudes to women.
The three alleged to have raped her in 1986 are Auckland's top policeman, Assistant Commissioner Clint Rickards, Brad Shipton, now a Tauranga District councillor, and Bob Schollum, a used-car salesman in Hastings. They vigorously deny the allegations which they say were thoroughly investigated a decade ago.She accuses a fourth policeman, John Dewar, then head of Rotorua CIB, of not properly investigating her claim.But Nicholas' story goes back even further, to Murupara, the tough timber town where she grew up as Louise Crawford in the 1970s. Back then, it was not quite the troublespot it would become. A sleepy mill town on the highway between Rotorua and Wairoa, it boomed in the 1950s when pine from the vast Kaingaroa Forest came on stream for logging.With hunting and fishing on its doorstep, it was a mecca for hard men who loved the great outdoors. Precut huts for single men were planted on a site bounded by the Rangitaiki River, the forest edge to the west and the rugged Ureweras to the east.By 1955 it had its first policeman, although for some years to come it would be hailed as a model for understanding between Maori and Pakeha.The Crawford family arrived in this frontier town in 1970 when Jim Crawford was appointed store supervisor at the Kaingaroa Logging Company.Louise, the second youngest of four children and the only girl, was just 3. The family had moved before, from Rotorua where she was born, to Whangarei, then back to Rotorua.Her mother Barbara took part-time jobs to make ends meet, at one stage working in the local bank.People led "very full lives", Barbara Crawford told the Herald this week. "We never sat around doing nothing. Things needed to be done and people got in and did it."It was the sort of place where everybody knew everybody else's business. "People were very friendly; it was a small community."
Louise went to Murupara Primary and Rangitahi College. Pretty and slim, she learned ballet but her real love was the outdoors. She enjoyed horseriding and hanging out on a farm with a girlfriend who lived over the back fence.Her parents helped to form a search and rescue service which would bring frequent contact with the local police.After a search or training exercise, says her childhood friend, the men would gather for a few beers, often in Jim Crawford's back shed. Neither girl was allowed in the shed during these gatherings.It was at a party after a successful search and rescue operation that, the friend claims, Louise was raped by a policeman. Twins lost in the Ureweras had been found and celebrations followed at a volunteer's house. Louise took food over and ended up staying to babysit.Her parents stayed the night and, while they slept, she was raped. When she told what had happened, her father went to "have it out" with the constable. But the complaint was not followed up."I don't think anyone believed her," says the friend. Louise did not have boyfriends and was not promiscuous. "We never hung out with boys. We had strict parents."Louise would subsequently lay rape complaints against four policemen stationed at Murupara in the early 80s, when she was aged between 13 and 15.The policemen denied it and without corroboration the matter was cleared as "not established".
For a young policeman, Murupara was hardly a sought-after posting. "In those days we had our own law here," a former search and rescue colleague of Jim Crawford recalls. "We didn't muck around with the police, really."Other locals say that in a small community, interaction with the police was routine. "We were all kind of friendly towards our cops - just treated them like mates, I suppose."But by the 1980s, the town was in a downward spiral following logging layoffs. It was an era of strikes, rising unemployment and youth crime.A book on policing in the Bay of Plenty by Jinty Rorke notes that police "inherited a serious gang problem and frequently found themselves involved in confrontations in the local hotel".Says one resident of 30 years: "The police had that 'let the family deal with it' attitude. If a fight broke out between the gangs and others they would not get involved. The local rugby guys had to step in."But for some of the young constables who came and went, this rugged spot was a chance to cut loose.Or, as former Police Association secretary Rob Moodie put it: "The attitude of young males towards women was different. We were like young bulls in a paddock."Says another local: "It's okay for anyone to have a social life, but the police were known to have more fun than others. I know of them hiring out the local pub for private functions. At one or two of these parties a couple of them got up to no good with some of the girls they invited. I heard it was all legal but I think it was still pretty weird for cops."It was a hard station to fill, says one long-serving Bay of Plenty policeman. "It was a rough town - lots of single young men and alcohol about. If you did your two years there you got to go anywhere you wanted."
Bob Schollum - one of the three policemen Nicholas alleges raped her in Rotorua - arrived in Murupara in 1980 from Palmerston North. Aged 28, he had been in the force for three years.He was not only good at his job but, locals say, "very good-looking".Schollum and another officer, Constable Trevor Clayton, became friendly with the Crawfords through search and rescue. Nicholas' childhood friend told the Herald that Schollum, like a trusted uncle, used to take the young Louise for drives.Clayton formed a friendship with Louise's brother, Peter, which would last 20 years until Clayton died last year of cancer.But the Crawfords' time in Murupara was about to run out. Jim Crawford was made redundant and the family moved to Nelson in search of a new life. Before long, they were back in Rotorua.One evening in 1986, Nicholas was walking home from her job as a receptionist when Schollum, who had transferred to Rotorua, pulled up and offered her a lift. She alleges he took her to a police house where he, Rickards and Shipton pack-raped her and violated her with a baton.The 18-year-old recognised Rickards and Shipton, big men into body-building and partying."I protested vigorously about being in the room with them because I knew what was going to happen. I was saying, ' No, I don't want this, guys.'A fourth man she did not know, wearing a police shirt but mufti trousers, witnessed the attack, she says. The baton was put into her anus while she was made to perform oral sex."It was so painful. I remember saying, 'No more, no more,' and rolling away. I picked my clothes up off the floor and Schollum told me to go and have a shower, which I did."She cried as she was driven home and Schollum said, "I'm sorry, Lou," when she was dropped off at her nearby flat.A former colleague who knew Schollum, Rickards and Shipton at the time says they "were good guys but they were ladies' men, always going on about their conquests."They were out to play and play they did. They were typical guys as far as I could see. If they were given the chance they would take it and a lot of them were given the opportunity because girls seemed to go for guys in uniform."It was a sexist place to work, the colleague says. Partying and womanising by police was never questioned or frowned on.Another colleague: "They had a shocking reputation among everyone for stray rooting but I never heard of anyone making complaints or anything like rape. It was always consensual, willing stuff. They probably fancied themselves as studs.""Brad [Shipton] was a cowboy, very vain. He bulked up all of a sudden."Trevor Clayton was another well-known player. But it was Clayton, the former Murupara constable and family friend, to whom Nicholas would turn when she first complained in 1993 about the alleged Rotorua rape.Nicholas says she did not tell anyone about the incident at the time because "I felt no one would believe me because they were police officers".She says the baton rape was not the end of police sex offences against her. Only when she formed a relationship with her husband, Ross Nicholas, did police stop calling on her.
She and Ross, a milk tanker driver, married in 1988; she was 20, he was 23. They lived in Horohoro, just outside Rotorua. The next year the first of three children was born.For most of this time, she says, the abuse by police was too much for her to deal with and she blocked it from her memory. That didn't mean it wasn't there. It nagged at her and, in 1993, she decided it had to be dealt with."Every time I saw a police car or a uniform ... the hairs on the back of my neck would stand on end. That's how I've been. I've always had this fear."She suffered "horrendous nightmares because ... nobody believed me. I've left them buried for a very long time".She sought counselling from a sexual abuse counsellor, Margaret Craig, who found her accounts credible. "I have had people in the past in my office with these sorts of stories and I have felt that they've been somewhat shaky or there's been some concerns that I've had," Craig said. "But I never ever had any with Louise."It was also time for Nicholas to tell those she loved and was loved by. "As soon as I decided to deal with it, I decided to tell everyone."Her family have been fantastic, she says, not least Ross, who has been her rock.He told the Herald that friends who knew Nicholas' story would sometimes ask him why he'd stayed with someone with so many problems. It's because, he says, he believes her and believes in her.
Early in 1993, aged 25, Nicholas went to the Rotorua police station to lodge a formal complaint. But she says she was persuaded by then CIB chief John Dewar not to make a complaint in writing.Her allegations against the trio came to light only after the Police Complaints Authority was called in to investigate police handling of a previous rape complaint made against the police in the Bay of Plenty.Detective Inspector Rex Miller and other senior police were brought in to conduct a Police Complaints Authority investigation into Nicholas' claims.The PCA inquiry, whose existence was made public only this week, looked at whether Dewar had conspired to cover up the 1986 allegations but found he had not committed any criminal or disciplinary offence.The investigation discovered that Dewar had failed to record a formal statement of complaint from Nicholas. His failure to record and investigate the allegations showed a gross lack of judgment and competence, the inquiry found.Early in his investigation Miller spoke to former sergeant Ray Sutton, to whom Nicholas had repeated her allegation of rape by the three officers."Ray made notes in relation to his interview with Louise and mysteriously his notebook disappeared from his desk
," he said.It was Miller who stood up to be counted this week after Nicholas went public. Now retired, he had kept his notebook of interviews with her "because I had some unease". He says he found her story compelling, but met a wall of silence from Rotorua police."I believed what she told us," he said. "But we had to go on what evidence was available and the corroboration was just not there."Miller, a man with a keen wit but a steely sense of purpose, said Nicholas was "moulded like play dough" into not making a complaint.He said that a month after he was given a statement from Nicholas, in which she said she was raped by the three officers, Dewar took another statement from her, in which she indicated the sex was consensual.Asked if he believed her, Miller said: "Well, I didn't believe the second statement."He said it was inappropriate for Dewar to have taken the statement at all. Nicholas' contradictory statement had brought her credibility into issue.Nicholas was also "poisoned" towards the PCA investigating team, which led to her making statements that "clouded her credibility"."I think she was very naive and easily manipulated, almost like play dough."She was able to be moulded how they wanted."It had also been unprofessional of Dewar to investigate close associates, he said.
By 1995, counsellor Margaret Craig had become so disturbed by Dewar's influence on her client that she wrote to police national headquarters outlining her concerns. She said Dewar was picking up Nicholas from her home and taking her to lunch before bringing her to counselling."That began to concern me because I knew she was very vulnerable."Craig says she received no reply for five months, after which she again approached national headquarters. From the reply, she concluded the police were "covering their backs".Dewar, now with the St John Ambulance in Hamilton, this week defended his handling of the allegations and sought legal advice."I spent a lot of time with Louise and dealt with her in an absolutely professional way," he told the Weekend Herald. "I was sympathetic and compassionate. I believed her and trusted in what she was saying to be the truth."He said he spent countless hours at Nicholas' home, going through the process the police would follow about her complaint, informing and briefing her and her parents."There was no coaxing, no persuasion. She made informed choices and had counselling. I liaised closely with her. If that is moulding then I am guilty of moulding ..."I did not mesmerise this girl over a period of 18 months. She knew and understood what her options were. What more can I say?"But in footage taken by a hidden camera and broadcast on One News, Dewar admitted to Nicholas he knew at least some of the physical contact between her and the three policemen was without her consent."I certainly knew that the part regarding the baton was not consensual. It would be hard to understand why you would consent to that."Yet he told the Sunday Star-Times Nicholas had to "take responsibility for what happened"."She said it was part of a different life. She never said anything about sexual offending in groups. She said she had a relationship with them separately."The impression I gained was she received a certain degree of satisfaction being present among police officers. They made her feel important, gave her mana. She seemed to relish the attention from these very important and powerful men. She said she was ashamed and embarrassed about what she allowed these men to do to her."He says he handled the investigation with the blessing of his district commander, the late Trevor Beatson, who took the matter to regional commander Assistant Commissioner Bruce Scott.It was agreed Dewar should handle the inquiry because of the serious nature of the allegations and because the detective constable in charge of the sexual abuse team would have been investigating a superior.
Nicholas says she originally believed Dewar had treated her fairly until she was shown various documents from the PCA investigation."I have since learned that the police officers he advised me not to make a written complaint about were friends and associates of Mr Dewar," she said in a statement.Some time after the investigation, Dewar was removed from his command at Rotorua police by the Deputy Commissioner of the time, Barry Matthews, who sent him to work in Auckland's police control room. He later left the police.Miller says the three accused policemen were counselled. This was the only discipline available because the investigation was outside its 12-month time limit under police regulations.Schollum and Shipton are no longer policemen. Shipton owns bars in Tauranga and Hamilton and is a colourful Tauranga District councillor. One of his establishments, the Mount Mellick, made headlines last year when it ran a dwarf-throwing contest, with punters tossing a vegetable oil-covered dwarf along a polythene sheet. Shipton, a strapping 120kg-plus figure, said at the time it was neither dangerous nor denigrating.Schollum appeared in the Herald in 1989 after rescuing two children caught in a rip at Mt Maunganui. He said afterwards the most fearful part was walking up the beach in his by then transparent underpants. "That gave some of the women in the crowd a few chuckles," he said.He became police prosecutor in Napier before leaving the force in the late 1990s. In 1999, he applied for a licence to sell used cars and now works at Stephen Hill Motors in Hastings.Miller says Rickards, the only one still in the force, admitted having sex with Nicholas with another person present, but denied raping her or using a baton on her."I know I laid it on the line to him loud and clear as to what my expectations of a police officer were. I didn't beat around the bush."It doesn't matter who's carrying it out. It's not professional behaviour and it's not the behaviour you condone from a young constable."Rickards, born and raised in Rotorua of the Tainui subtribe Ngati Hikairo, was no stranger to trouble. Petty crime as a teenager brought him into contact with the police but he knew he wanted to be one of them. He joined as an 18-year-old, too young to make arrests.A profile in the 1979 Trentham police college yearbook, written by classmates, lists rugby and beer as his pet loves. His ambition: commissioner. But the most likely outcome, his colleagues predicted, was: "Black Power leader in Rotorua.""Clint would tell anyone who would listen he was going to be the first Maori police commissioner," a veteran officer said this week. "And he would step on whatever toes he had to in order to get there."Another former colleague found him aggressive and controlling. "When he left Hamilton they all breathed a huge sigh of relief."A detective by 1983, Rickards spent four years in Rotorua and did a stint undercover. Transfers would later take him to Otahuhu, Hastings, Invercargill, Papakura and Hamilton.
When, in 1997, assistant commissioner Rob Robinson promoted Rickards to become the country's youngest police chief, in the Gisborne district, Rex Miller was dismayed."I told him he would regret the decision, that it wouldn't be wise because Rickards was carrying a bit of baggage. And he [Robinson] said, 'No, no, he'll be good, he'll be good."Two years on Robinson, then deputy commissioner, accepted Rickards' eventually successful application to head the Waikato district but played no further role in the appointment.But the rape allegations would come back to haunt Rickards in 2000, when he was vying for the job of deputy commissioner, a position requiring the Prime Minister's approval.After Robinson told Helen Clark about the allegations and investigation, she recommended Steve Long, the man appointed this week to reopen the police investigation of the complaints.Yet Robinson did not cast Rickards adrift. In 2001, by now commissioner, he promoted Rickards to assistant commissioner, bringing him to headquarters to run a troubleshooting support team for him.He then appointed Rickards head of the Auckland City police district, with overall responsibility for greater Auckland, a position he took up on January 1.Robinson said this week he did not believe "sexual proclivities" should necessarily come into employment decisions. After Helen Clark announced a commission of inquiry, he conceded his promotion of Rickards might form part of the inquiry.The Government's quick move to defuse any political fallout this week was in itself highly unusual. When on Sunday afternoon Herald political reporter Kevin Taylor contacted the Prime Minister's office about Rickards, it was Helen Clark who phoned back to explain why she had not recommended him for deputy commissioner.Two days later, as police reopened the criminal investigation and Rickards was stood down, Helen Clark ordered an independent commission of inquiry."The allegations are extremely serious and suggest a systematic cover-up of misbehaviour by the police," she said.The inquiry will look at the police handling of their investigations into Nicholas' claims and the "culture" within the police. It will look at other, possibly related claims which came out of the woodwork this week.
Kaitaia woman Judith Garrett alleges she was handcuffed and raped in the Kaitaia police station in 1988, when she was 44. Charges were never laid against the officer, Constable Tim Ogle.Garrett told the Herald: "He's been in Australia since he was more or less told to go in July 1988."And a Murupara woman, whose name is suppressed, is seeking compensation over the police handling of her 1982 rape complaint. The 38-year-old, twice raped by a shopkeeper when she was 16, received a formal apology from Robinson in 2000 after a damning report into police handling of her complaint.Amid these developments, more details emerged of Nicholas' story and of police culture at the time - from Miller, from Craig and from former Rotorua policewoman Carolyn Butcher, who was in the same squad as one of the three men. She told One News her baton went missing at a police party in the mid-1980s. When it was returned, she was told it had been used for sex.Then on Wednesday, Louise's brother Peter Crawford said former policeman Clayton had confessed on his deathbed that he was warned to keep quiet about the allegations. "He said, 'there's definitely been a cover-up', said Crawford. "He was definitely having trouble with it because he knew it was illegal."After 18 years, Nicholas could scarcely comprehend the developments this week. After the letdown of Miller's investigation, she had returned to the lifestyle block and "got on with life" with Ross, a milk tanker driver, and their three children, aged 14, 12 and 9.Her family knows everything, she says, and her children understand that things happened to their mum at the hands of policemen that should never have happened."We'd sort of put it away in a cupboard and got on with life but we thought, who knows, it may come out one day," she told the Herald.Louise and Ross Nicholas didn't crack open a bottle of champagne when the commission of inquiry and new criminal investigation were announced. They are rural people. They did have a beer as they took constant phone calls.Ross, who has stood by her throughout her journey, was elated for his wife. "I called it Louise Day. We need a public holiday."To Nicholas, it marked a change which she summed up with the words, "they can put away their brooms now". At last, she is being listened to.