A disabled child was killed at a Christchurch school after being given medicine which staff knew he was not meant to have, a witness has claimed.
The extraordinary allegation was made by abuse survivor Donald Ku, who spoke at a hearing on historic abuse at Marylands School yesterday. The church says it has searched its files for any deaths in care and it has no record of the alleged incident.
The names of the student and the person who administered the medicine are suppressed by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care, which is holding the hearings in Christchurch.
“[Redacted] killed [redacted] with medication in 1974,” Ku’s written statement said.
He said the students at the live-in school in Halswell were prescribed medicine because of a virus. Brothers from the religious order St John of God, which ran the school, knew that the boy could not have the medicine “because of his particular mental and medical difficulties”.
Ku claimed that despite this knowledge, an unnamed person at the school forced the child to have the prescribed medicine.
“He told [redacted] to shut up and sit down and just take the medication. [Redacted] died in hospital by the end of Easter.”
While the historic abuse at the school is well known, it appears to be the first time a wrongful death allegation has been made in public.
It was briefly mentioned in a testimony which was predominantly focused on the sexual and physical abuse which Ku suffered at the school.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church said it prepared a briefing paper – with input from St John – on residents of Marylands who died in care, following a search of its records.
“The order found no documentary records on the matter disclosed in the statement provided to the Inquiry,” the spokesman said, referring to Ku’s testimony.
The Catholic Church’s lawyer Sally McKechnie told the commission that very few records were held on Marylands, especially in relation to the children who attended the school.
When the brothers left the school in 1984 it was taken over by the Ministry of Education – who were assumed to have taken possession of any files. The ministry has been asked to comment.
St John of God Hauora Trust, which took over St John of God’s services in Christchurch in 2008, said it did not hold files from the period when the allegation was made.
In a statement released before the hearing, the trust’s CEO Sarah Hillier said “we condemn and deplore all forms of abuse” and said the victims “endured abuse at a time when they were most vulnerable”.
Ku, 58, was sent to Marylands School for children with special needs just before his 10th birthday. Diagnosed as “mentally retarded”, he was in and out of state care throughout his life and was also abused at the psychiatric facility Lake Alice Hospital.
He said he and numerous other students at Marylands were sexually and physically abused by two Brothers, Bernie McGrath and Rodger Moloney. The two men were later jailed, but only when their crimes came to light two decades later.
Ku said he complained at the time of the abuse to a Brother at the school, Raymond Garchow, but nothing was done. Garchow was later charged with sexual abuse of boys at Marylands in 2002 but did not face trial because he was too ill.
He was captured in the police investigation Operation Authority, which led to charges in relation to 40 individual sexual abuse complaints at Marylands.
Katherine Anderson, counsel assisting the Royal Commission, said that St John of God records showed a total of 144 complaints were made to the order.
“So we know that while at least 40 went to the police to file complaints, there were many that did not.”
She said the independent investigation into Marylands by the commission would be the first time scrutiny was applied more broadly to St John, the Catholic Church and the state, rather than individual wrongdoing.
St John of God was given a licence and funding to run a private school despite having no track record in the sector. The abuse occurred nearly immediately after it was set up in 1955 – five of the first 10 students admitted to the school laid complaints and received ex gratia payments.
Also of interest to the commission was the wider role of the Catholic Church, which encouraged the order to establish itself in New Zealand and had oversight responsibilities for its activities.
Anderson said questions would be asked of the state, which placed 20 per cent of the students at Marylands.
Ku, who was originally from Raetihi, said his “greatest anger” was directed at the (former) Department of Social Welfare.
“They took me from parents who, even though young and needing assistance, could have given me love and protected me from what happened at Lake Alice and Marylands.”
He added: “If I had all the people who have abused me over the years in one room, I’d give them a hiding. It would be payback for the way they treated me.”
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