IPCA finds investigation deficient

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that a police investigation into inappropriate contact between a teacher and a student in Gisborne in 2014 was deficient in several respects.

In April 2014, the Gisborne Police Child Protection Team (CPT) commenced an investigation after they were alerted to an allegation of inappropriate contact between Sam Back, an intermediate school teacher, and Reiha McLelland, a 13-year-old student.

McLelland's parents lodged a complaint to the IPCA over the police investigation in 2014, which found insufficient evidence of criminal offending.

But the IPCA has found several flaws including that the CPT investigating officer did not adequately assess the evidence and that the investigation plan was inadequate.

The authority conducted an independent investigation and found that:

  •   The CPT investigating officer did not adequately assess the evidence.
  •   Notwithstanding the inadequacy of the police assessment, the authority agrees that there was insufficient evidence available to police to charge Mr Back with a criminal offence.
  •   The investigating officer's supervisor had a conflict of interest which was not properly managed, and consequently the investigation was not adequately supervised.
  •   The investigation plan was inadequate and not all appropriate enquiries were conducted.
  •   Information obtained from the interviews of Reiha and Mr Back was not recorded appropriately.
  •   The interview of Mr Back was not conducted properly.

The police formerly acknowledged and accepted the findings this afternoon.

“Notwithstanding the issues identified by the IPCA - and by our own internal investigation into this matter- I am satisfied, as is the IPCA, that the ultimate outcome of this case was the correct one: there was insufficient evidence to charge Samuel Back with a criminal offence," says Eastern District Commander Superintendent Tania Kura.

“While I cannot speak for Reiha’s family, I do want to acknowledge how extremely difficult the release of this report and the subsequent publicity must be for them," says Kura.

“It has been four years since Reiha’s tragic death and I’m sure the pain of her family and friends has not diminished in that time."

Kura says she hopes to meet with Reiha's family in the coming days to discuss the IPCA's findings.