Allegations of Abuse in Institutions

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Berhampore Childrens Home

The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
May 2 2005

The Berhampore home case


On Sunday 1 May, the Sunday current affairs programme on Television One broadcast an item about allegations of abuse at the Berhampore home run by Presbyterian Support Services Central in the 50s and 60s. The Dominion-Post and other news agencies have also published or broadcast items about this matter, and it is likely there will be further media coverage.

Some matters have not been adequately covered in the newspaper, radio and television reports, even though we have given careful detailed briefings. This information may help answer questions you have about the Church’s response to this matter.

Allegation that a previous Moderator of the General Assembly was advised of the alleged abuse in 1991 and took no action

·           The Assembly Executive Secretary has completed an investigation into claims that the Moderator took no action, and the Church’s records are inconclusive.

·           The investigation included a review of available records and discussions with relevant people. The investigation was made more difficult because the Moderator has since died.

·           We find no record of a report passed to the Moderator, nor have we been able to establish whether a report was passed to Presbyterian Support Services Central for their investigation.

·           We are aware of a uniform protocol that in the case of serious verbal allegations a request is made for written documentation with a commitment to forward such documentation into the Church’s formal processes.

·           The allegation of inaction relates to conversations that are reported to have occurred that occurred more than 14 years ago in 1991. Since then, the Church has significantly improved its processes for managing complaints of misconduct. We are confident that if a similar situation arose today, that the matter would be picked up and dealt with quickly.

Allegations that the Church took no action to help the complainant(s)

This simply isn’t accurate; the Church has taken action to support the complainant(s) and the key actions are noted below:

·           The Church has publicly expressed regret that it has taken so long for the complainants to have their concerns heard by Presbyterian Support Services Central. It has also been reiterated that the Church does not condone abusive behaviours and that the safety of those in our care is of paramount importance.

·           The Presbyterian Church provided significant support for the first claimant (she is the only person, to date, that has made direct contact with the Church in relation to these matters). In 2001, a church contact person provided active support including encouraging her to lay a complaint with the police, provided pastoral care and attended meetings between her and Presbyterian Support Services Central in a support role.

·           In 2001, the Presbyterian parish of which Mr Lake was an elder took action to assess if he represented potential risk to children in the church’s care while the matter was being investigated. As he was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the Church at that time, it was concluded that he did not represent a significant risk to children in the church’s care. (It should be noted that in situations like this, if a person is deemed to present a risk to children, it is likely that the person would be stood down, pending the outcome of an investigation.)

·           In 2004, alleged abuse by Mr Lake was reported on TVNZ’s Holmes show. The Church attempted to make contact with complainants so that further action could be taken. The only contact available was through the Holmes administration. Letters were written and provided to Holmes to forward to the complainants.

The Presbyterian “institution” (including Presbyterian Support Services Central and the Presbyterian Church) appeared unsympathetic to the complainant(s)

Unfortunately, the reports have given the appearance that the Church is unsympathetic to the complainants. This is due, in part, to confusion about the difference between Presbyterian Support Services Central and Presbyterian Church. Presbyterian Support Services Central is autonomous of the Presbyterian Church – it resides in a separate building and has its own management and governance structures that are unrelated to the Church.

Presbyterian Support Services Central’s relationship to this issue is quite different to that of the Church and as a result its response is potentially quite different also. Presbyterian Support Services Central is not accountable to the Church.

The Church’s stance has been deliberate and specific. In all of our dealings we are endeavouring to offer in the following order:

·           Compassion

·           Sensitivity

·           Transparency

·           Our outrage at substantiated child abuse

·           Robust and confidential investigation

·           Justice for all concerned

From this stance we have taken an approach that recognises and acknowledges the complainants and expresses regret for their situation. Of course, our endeavours have been discreet and largely behind the scenes. We have ourselves been subject to what the media have chosen to select from our comments for their reports. In turn we have been cautious in revealing more expansive information because we have no wish to escalate matters.

We recognise that Presbyterian Support Services Central has had its own priorities in their communications. We have no influence over the position that Presbyterian Support Services Central chooses to take with this (or any other) issue. We are continuing to work with Presbyterian Support Services Central.

If you have any questions or comments, please email with your thoughts.