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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Police incompetence highlighted in death of vulnerable patient:

The family of Nicky Tairoa Stephens are speaking up about the failure of Police to respond to pleas for help searching for their son after he was allowed to wander out of a mental health facility where he was supposed to be receiving care and protection:

"When my son failed to return on 9th March from an ‘unescorted’ cigarette break from a ‘secure’ unit at Waikato Hospital’s Henry Bennett Centre the family was sick with worry, knowing his two recent attempts at suicide, and his recurrent talk of suicide made him an exceptionally high suicide risk while he was on his own. - See more at:

When my son failed to return on 9th March from an ‘unescorted’ cigarette break from a ‘secure’ unit at Waikato Hospital’s Henry Bennett Centre the family was sick with worry, knowing his two recent attempts at suicide, and his recurrent talk of suicide made him an exceptionally high suicide risk while he was on his own.

What we didn’t fully comprehend then, but know only too well now, was the depth and breadth of official incompetence, inaction, backside-covering and outright lying that would unfold over the three days until his body was found in the Waikato River, and the 10 weeks since.

My other son Tony has written eloquently in The Daily Blog about how the New Zealand mental health system failed Nicky, and fails too many other families.

We have also tried to initiate other inquiries via the Coroner’s office, the Health & Disability Commission, the District Inspectors of Mental Health – none of which have yet started.

And we are actively using social media (e.g. Facebook: Nicky ‘Autumn’ Stevens) to get Nicky’s story out, and help other families tell their stories, many of them horrifically similar to ours.

But what we haven’t yet told is the story of the almost complete dereliction of duty exhibited by the NZ Police following their receipt of the ‘Missing Person’s report from the Hospital shortly after Nicky disappeared.

After all, Police did not start a search for Nick until over two days after he went missing, despite telling the DHB one was under way immediately (at least according to the DHB).

Nicky’s body was found three days after he went missing, but only a kilometer down the fast-flowing River from the Hospital area.

And two witnesses have come forward claiming in a written statement to have seen Nicky on the day after he disappeared between the Hospital and where his body was found – near the Police station, actually. Not that Police have yet interviewed that couple, 7 weeks after we provided the statement to them.

No Police read the statement clearly placed in their missing person notes that he was a suicide risk, and had made recent attempts at his life.

The Police ‘Comms North’ call centre did not note down the Hospital nurse clearly pointing out the suicide risk three times in the initial call, including using the word “serious” to describe it.

Shades of Iraena Asher, the troubled young woman who went missing at Piha in 2004, with police responding to the report of her disappearance by sending a taxi (to the wrong address). Nicky didn’t even get a taxi! Iraena, who was also mentally ill, was presumed drowned, as her body was never found.

As a result of the lack of attention to the known details, mid-level cops pushed Nicky’s missing persons case well down the priority list, not even assigning it to any officer to look at for 42 hours after the missing person’s report came in.

When no police had contacted us for over a day after Nicky’s disappearance, we tried to call their Hamilton ‘operations room’, being cut off six times before getting a junior cop to take a message asking for whoever was in charge to call us – something that never happened.

In fact we have a written report from Hospital staff claiming that the person who would normally handle Nicky’s case was “out on training” that day.

In desperation, after 30 hours of hearing nothing I wrote urgent, ‘top priority’ emails to the Police Minister, Police Commissioner and Waikato District Police Commander demanding some contact with us, and outlining the serious suicide risk. The next day the Minister’s office emailed back saying they wouldn’t do anything but had referred my email on to the Commissioner’s office.

Neither senior cop sent a message down the line to Hamilton police to get their backsides into gear, and to this day, neither have contacted the family.

The Police finally did start a search, 50 hours after Nicky went missing. His body was found by a member of the public, right across the River from where I was personally searching at the time.

We hoped, naively, that the pleasant cops who drove us to the morgue to view Nicky’s body after it was recovered from the River, and who let us listen to the missing persons phone call audio tape, would do the right thing, and recognise police inaction had thrown away any chance of finding Nicky before he drowned himself.

But after initially offering all the help we wanted, and even letting us listen to the audio of the missing persons call, Police have clammed up since we laid formal complaints of negligence against the DHB, insisting on a formal police investigation, and since we made a point, after hearing the audio, of telling them we thought they had not done their job properly.

Police have only just in the last week (9 weeks after Nicky’s body was found) started their investigation of the DHB negligence.

Police have refused to give the family a copy of the missing persons call audio tape, or the notes of that call that are on Nicky’s file.

Police have appointed a Hamilton police sergeant to investigate the failings of the Hamilton Police and, in some cases, his superiors – not that this investigation has even started, 11 weeks after Nicky disappeared.

The Police have gone to great pains to tell us on several occasions that if they have made mistakes they will “put their hands up”, and rectify their errors.

But the family finds that the Police words are not matched by their actions, and have now made a formal and detailed complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), who we are told are this week holding a high-level meeting to decide how to handle it.

We are not holding our breath for a timely, independent and fearless investigation by the IPCA – that would be a bonus – but we are letting Police, health and Government officials know that we won’t be bullshitted to, and that we will leave no stone unturned looking for the truth about Nicky’s death."

Dave Macpherson – Father of Nicky Stevens

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