Police yet to resolve aspects of Lillybing case

Police yet to resolve aspects of Lillybing case

Wellington

The police file on some aspects of the Lillybing case remains open - despite today’s High Court sentencing of her aunties Rachaelle Namana and Rongomai Paewai on charges relating to the toddler’s death.

Hinewaioriki Karaitiana-Matiaha, known as Lillybing, died at a Carterton house on 23 July last year.

Inspector Rod Drew, officer in charge of the inquiry, says police still want to know who caused Lillybing’s vaginal injuries and how this violation happened.

"We’ve exhausted every possible avenue of investigation to determine who caused these injuries,” Mr Drew says. “The accused women’s refusal to discuss the injuries continues to frustrate the investigation process.

"Although the women admit ‘noticing something wrong’ with Lillybing’s vagina on the Saturday morning it should not necessarily be inferred that a third person was involved in inflicting the injuries.

"The injuries were violent, but not necessarily sexually motivated ones. Expert opinion on when they were inflicted, possibly contemporaneously with the prolonged and violent ‘toilet training’ inflicted by Rachaelle Namana on the Friday night may be relevant.”

Mr Drew says Lillybing died after a series of dreadful injuries suffered over a three-day period.

"In the days leading up to her death, she must have been a miserable wee girl. She was suffering from Rota virus, was covered in bruises and scratches, was violated and bleeding internally, and had horrific scalding burns on her face, shoulder and pubis.

"It would have been little wonder if she cried continuously; cried so much her aunty Rachaelle Namana finally shook her to death to silence her.”

Mr Drew says even now it’s difficult for investigators to state precisely the order or nature of events which caused Lillybing’s injuries and led to her death.

"Only Lillybing and those responsible know. Lillybing’s no longer with us and both Namana and Paewai maintain their code of silence.”

Mr Drew says that by stitching together evidence from a medical examination, witnesses who saw the toddler in her last few days alive, and from what the accused women told police in the very early stages of the investigation, police formed a tragic picture of Lillybing’s suffering.

"This was a case where the victim could not speak, and the injuries were so terrible that they demanded an explanation from those who might know.

"Some key people however exercised their right not to speak to police, and this significantly hampered the inquiry. They also tried shifting the blame to others.”

Police focus from the outset was to establish who committed the act which caused Lillybing’s death and how and by whom other significant injuries were inflicted.

Mr Drew says withdrawal of the manslaughter charge against Paewai was appropriate after the facts of the killing were known.

"Lillybing’s tragic death highlights the importance of how adults need to be vitally interested in the safety and wellbeing of children.

"Looseness and abuse of the extended family concept led in this case to people not taking direct responsibility for Lillybing – those who should have been vitally interested all thought someone else was caring for her.

"Lillybing was part of a large extended family and from the outset we knew the solution lay within the close family.

"Most family members were concerned and supported the police investigation, even some who are not normally well disposed towards us,” Mr Drew says. “Some worked actively to bring justice, and I know they are still hurting. A few chose to support a wall of silence and a shifting of blame.”

He says there is no firm evidence of offending against other children in the family. The children are in the custody of extended family members in various places under the oversight of the Child, Youth and Family Service.

"Lillybing’s cruel death has struck a chord with many New Zealanders,” Mr Drew says. “We need as a nation to look at how we care for our children, and what is needed to ensure parents are adequately skilled to be good mums and dads.

"Those of us who worked on the Lillybing inquiry, won’t forget her haunted wee face. Images of her injuries will stay with us.”

Ends

Media contact:

Kaye Calder, Wellington Police District Communications Manager,
Tel 04 496 3464 or 021 373 020