Allegations of Abuse in Institutions
A Presbyterian group is refusing to deal with at least 14 people who say they were sexually abused at a Wellington children's home if they have hired a lawyer or gone public with their claims.
Presbyterian Support Services spokesman Trevor Roberts said former residents who engaged a lawyer or spoke to the media would have to prove their claims in court.
"If someone else turns up, we have a process in place to deal with that. But we are not going to get into the details, that is between us and the claimant."
At least 14 former residents of a Presbyterian Support children's home in Berhampore went to police last year with claims that they were sexually abused by the home's then head of social services, Walter Lake, an OBE and justice of the peace.
Police have confirmed they were poised to charge Lake with multiple sex crimes when he died on November 21, aged 84.
The Presbyterian Church has distanced itself from the allegations, saying the children's home was not under its management, or control, and was run by Presbyterian Support. Both organisations are separate legal entities but share a "common heritage".
Kathleen Batchelor, 57, – the first complainant to come forward – told The Dominion Post last night that she had tried approaching Presbyterian Support without a lawyer and had got nowhere. "If any of us went on our own to talk with (Presbyterian Support) without a lawyer (it) would use us as doormats."
While some claimants wanted compensation, the most important thing was that Presbyterian Support admitted the abuse, she said. "They knew and did nothing; they are as liable as Lake."
Ms Batchelor said Lake sexually assaulted her when she was 13, in his car parked at the Petone foreshore.
She complained to a matron at the home after she was abused but was called a liar and sent to bed.
She also says she told a senior Presbyterian Church minister about the abuse but no action was taken.
Ms Batchelor laid a complaint with police in 1985 but Lake denied the allegations and was not prosecuted.
In 2001 she took her allegations to Presbyterian Support but was told to lay a complaint with police. She did, but once again there was not enough evidence to act.
Last year, when Ms Batchelor went public with her allegations, culminating in an investigation by TVNZ's Sunday programme last night, more former residents at the Berhampore home came forward with similar abuse claims against Lake. Among the complainants were the Millans.
Karen, 43, and Louise Millan, 45, of Paraparaumu, were just two and three respectively when they were placed in the home. They recall being told to strip naked while in Lake's car together, then they were sexually assaulted. They are unsure of what age they were, other than it was before Louise turned eight.
Karen also recalled Lake fondling her while helping her undress. Louise said he masturbated on her.
Louise also says she witnessed her older brother Kevin stripped naked and bent over a chair in the girl's dance hall, with Lake standing behind him. "My brother was yelling stop, stop. I knew he (Lake) was hurting him. I just backed out and left." Kevin, now 49, told his sister he was abused "hundreds" of times but listed just three in his statement to police.
Lake was also accused of raping the boy at the Presbyterian Support head office in Ghuznee St.
Detective Sergeant Glenn Williams said 14 formal complaints had been made against Lake. "Police had interviewed a large number of people and had come to the conclusion there was strong similarity in a large number of the complaints and that led us to believe there was sufficient evidence to put it before the courts."
Former staff were also interviewed and a number said they had "had concerns" about Lake but were not aware of specific incidents.
Mr Roberts, a lawyer, said Presbyterian Support was not liable for the alleged crimes and "would not expose itself to allegations of a cover-up by writing out cheques".
Those who hired a lawyer or spoke to the media should take their claims to court.
"There is a rough chance that the truth will emerge rather than the story," he said. "In some cases money is clearly at stake here."
Presbyterian Church spokeswoman Josephine Reader said Presbyterian Support Services had operated as a separate entity since 1909.
Though the church was not responsible for the alleged sexual misconduct, it was responsible for the alleged inaction of the Church minister who was told about the alleged abuse. That minister had since died and investigations had failed to reveal any record of a complaint. The process for managing sexual misconduct complaints had since been "significantly strengthened", she said