On Thursday 28 February 2013, Kurt Bayer of the NZ Herald published a 'news report' stating "Inquest: NZ Soldier took own life in Afghanistan". The brief few lines stated that the death was a suicide and the Coroner, Gordon Matenga, was satisfied with the causes and circumstances of the so called 'investigation' and 'Court of Inquiry' conducted by the Defence Force - the victim's employer.
On Sunday the 3rd March two further articles were published in the Herald, one at 11:30 a.m. entitiled "Defence Force not talking on soldier's death", which briefly outlined the statement that:
"the Defence Force" was "disappointed that the media chose to ignore the directions of the Coroner and publish an article today about the death of Corporal Douglas Hughes. The Defence Force was asked a number of questions which they declined to answer as the Coroner had directed that "In addition to the standard order under section 71, pursuant to section 74 Coroners Act 2006, I prohibit from publication all evidence including the report of the Court of Inquiry, in the interests of justice and on the basis of personal privacy. The wishes of the family as expressed to the New Zealand Defence Force was not to publicly comment on this case, and to allow the family the time and space they needed to come to terms with their loss and grief.
"We recognise that this has been a difficult issue for the family and our sympathies and support are with them," he said.
"The wishes of the family as expressed to the New Zealand Defence Force was not to publicly comment on this case, and to allow the family the time and space they needed to come to terms with their loss and grief."
Lt Gen Jones said the Defence Force provided personnel with psychological and physical health support before, during and after their deployment on operational missions.
He would make no further comment on the matter."
At 5:30 a.m. a report by David Fisher in the Herald revealed that the Coroner had attacked gay marriage in a submission to parliament strongly opposing a proposed gay marriage Bill, and that he was a former Mormon Bishop and an elder of the Mormon Church. It also revealed that although the earlier reports had mislead readers into believing that an inquest had been held, in fact it hadn't.
Also at 5:30 a.m. another report appeared, by David Fisher and Audrey Young. It was titled Family want open inquest and revealed that the earlier reports had been nothing more than carefully constructed propaganda.
|Douglas Hughes and his proud family. Douglas was of Ngapuhi descent.|
"The army have abdicated their responsibility."
He said the family had hoped the coronial inquiry would satisfy their questions and he was angry Mr Matenga had decided not to hold an inquest.
"It's his job to do an investigation."
"We're not embarrassed by the fact he [Corporal Hughes] is gay. I just feel personally they didn't do enough to support him. My feeling is perhaps he lacked access to the assistance he deserved."
"I don't think we've been told the truth," said Mr Poa.
"The family reportedly believe Corporal Hughes was bullied because he was gay and received no support from commanders."
At 5:00 on the 4th March 2013 a report was published on the Stuff website saying that a contingent of troops was sent to Afghanistan unprepared for the deployment because of the defence force's involvement in the Rugby World Cup.
Fairfax Media learned that a Court of Inquiry into the death last year of Corporal Douglas Hughes, 26, found that because of the NZDF's involvement in World Cup security in September and October of 2011, training for the group, known as CRIB19, was reduced from the standard five weeks to just three.
The inquiry found that this meant various training outcomes were not achieved, including stress management and identification, there were not enough medical resources or training, and other contributing factors. The report stated that the death of Corporal Douglas Hughes was preventable.
This article appeared in the Northern Advocate shortly after Douglas's death:
"Venus Poa loved singing with her tall, handsome son Corporal Douglas Hughes.
They were karaoke stars, warbling through Cruisin' in the hit duet style of Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow.
So Venus was delighted when she got a phone call from Afghanistan on her birthday late last month and 26-year-old Dougie wished her many happy returns. "He said he would be home soon and I said I would be counting the days, as I couldn't wait to see him."
But Dougie came home in a box after dying mysteriously while off-duty at the Romero Forward Patrol Base in Bamiyan province on April 3. The cause of his death has not been disclosed and is being investigated by the Army.
"When I heard what had happened, I felt like my whole heart was ripped out," Ms Poa said.
Dougie was buried after a military funeral at Pakotai last Thursday. Stricken, but keeping the tears at bay, Ms Poa has described the "hardest week of my life".
"I really miss him. I am still coming to terms with his death," she said. "I don't know how long the investigation [into the cause of death] will take. I won't settle until I have closure on that."
Ms Poa said Dougie was generous and affectionate. He had loved his family dearly and they had loved him. She recalled him eeling and camping as a youngster and growing into a leader in rugby, league and kapa haka.
He enjoyed life in the army, which he had joined aged 17, but he hadn't been keen to serve a second tour of duty in Afghanistan, which he started in September last year. "He went because he had trained some boys who were going over there for the first time and he didn't want to let them down," Ms Poa said.
When the Northern Advocate asked how long the investigation into the cause of death could take, a Defence Force spokesman said: "Unfortunately, it simply is not possible to put a definitive timeframe on this process, which will include the collection of witness and expert medical testimony. The NZDF is also liaising closely with the coroner's office."
The spokesman said the Defence Force had been keeping in touch with Corporal Hughes' family and would keep them informed of progress.
Earlier, Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones would not be drawn on how Corporal Hughes had died, while an investigation was under way.
"The only issues that we can confirm at this stage - there was no hostile action, no operational incident that caused his death," he said.
At least one other person had been with Corporal Hughes when the incident occurred but General Jones would not reveal what they had said about the incident.Corporal Douglas Hughes's mother says the coroner never contacted her family to ask whether they wanted an inquest into her son's death.
She has called for an open inquiry into the death because she believes a defence force Court of Inquiry was a ''whitewash''.
"There were a lot of flaws in this case." said Venus Poa.
An inquiry has found that Corporal Douglas Hughes's death was preventable, and that a contingent of troops was sent to Afghanistan unprepared for the deployment because of the defence force's involvement in the Rugby World Cup.
Pressure continues to mount for the inquest. Hughes with his sergeant and another soldier right up until his death, the sergeant had frisked him for a weapon, obviously for a reason. The sergeant failed in his duty to keep Corporal Douglas - and the other soldier - safe and get him the support he needed.
A recent editorial in the Dominion Post has said that the Coroner has failed in his duty. That justice must be seen to be done, that has been repeatedly flouted in this case, and that "There is only one way to fix the mess. The chief coroner must open an inquest. And he must tell Mr Matenga he's had his last chance."
Also relevant is the death of Serena Holroyd, Police Constable at Counties Manakau, who (while she was not gay, as far as I know) Serena was bullied by colleagues to the point where she just couldn't take it any more, and the culture of the Police and the armed forces needs transparency and investigation, because it's clearly dysfunctional - NZ has some of the highest rates of suicide in the world and here where I live we REGULARLY have TWICE THE NATIONAL AVERAGE.
I recall an inquiry into allegations of bullying at Waiouru Cadet School a few years ago. My father was head of the Cadet School for a few years and I know he wouldn't have covered up any bullying that happened while he was in charge, because he stuck up for victims of bullying. It's a shame Lt Gen Rhys Jones and Coroner Gordon Matenga do the opposite.
|Coroner Gordon Matenga|
|Corporal Douglas Hughes|
Other creative decisions of the Coroners are also at this link.
Other news reports etc, regarding the death of Douglas Hughes are at these links:
In a few days it will be Anzac Day, 2013. The Court Martial regarding the helicopter crash that happened on Anzac Day two years ago has found Flt Lt Pezzaro not guilty because of the culture of poor decision making that was in place at the time, serious questions have also been raised in the matter of the death of another soldier, Michael Ross, who drowned in Lake Moawhanga, his funeral was held hours after the violent death of another soldier from Linton.