Riki Nath murdered his wife, Sherine, and bashed their toddler almost to death - using a claw hammer - before he took his own life at their Papatoetoe home.
Nath was a controlling and possessive man and was facing domestic violence charges when he died.
Sherine had left Nath but - tragically - just days before she died he managed to convince the terrified woman to come home.
Today the Herald can reveal the full story behind the shocking December 2019 slaying - and a coroner's calls for more to be done to educate migrant families in New Zealand about the signs of domestic violence and her plea for more help for both victims and perpetrators.
WARNING - DISTRESSING CONTENT
Sherine's leaving was a long time coming.
For 14 years she had endured Nath's torture - physically, mentally, emotionally.
But when Nath bashed her badly in front of their little boy - hitting her, pulling her hair, head butting her and kicking her body - she knew she had to go.
She feared for her safety, but worse, she feared for her son.
He had been exposed to the hidings and verbal assaults his whole life and he was beginning to copy his father's behaviour.
Finally, Sherine was ready to speak up.
Riki Nath killed his wife Sherine and tried to kill their son before he took his own life. Photo / Supplied
On March 8, 2019 Sherine reported the most recent assault by her husband and told police and her GP what had been going on behind closed doors for more than a decade.
That day, Sherine left Nath.
Then, to the horror of her family and friends, in December 2019 she announced she was going back to him.
She did not love him anymore, she did not want to be near him, but she felt compelled to give him a second chance for her son's sake.
Two days before she moved back into the Papatoetoe she seemed to almost change her mind, sending Nath a text that read: "I'm scared to come to you. You will hurt me again I know."
But on December 23 she took her little boy home to his father, her husband.
That day she told her sister she was not happy, she was struggling and Nath was still as controlling and demanding as ever.
She "hated being back", she didn't want to sleep in the same bed as Nath.
The family of three made it through Christmas.
They hosted relatives, Nath showered his wife and son with gifts.
In the days that followed, a series of "heavy" arguments ensued when Sherine suggested spending New Year with her sister - without Nath.
It all came to a head - and a brutal end - on December 29.
Sherine and Nath were last seen alive at 9.20pm by his cousin who lived with them.
They were sitting in the living room together and nothing was amiss.
The next morning the same cousin would be the one to find Sherine beaten and choked to death, Nath dead by his own hand and their little boy badly wounded and barely alive.
Police at the scene of the murder-suicide in Papatoetoe. Photo / Dean Purcell
It was just before 10am when all hell broke loose at Sunnyside Crescent, Papatoetoe.
Nath's cousin got up as usual and got ready for work.
At 9.45am when he went to leave for work he found Nath dead in the garage.
He ran to find Sherine and tell her but when he burst into her room he found an even more shocking scene.
Sherine was lying face down on her bed, covered in blood and unresponsive.
Her 4-year-old son lay next to her, bloodied and with visible head injuries.
Nath's cousin called 111 and police converged on the scene.
They quickly confirmed Nath and Sherine were both dead but discovered their son was alive - just.
The boy had been hit with the same claw hammer used to kill his mother - which was lying nearby - and his little skull was badly fractured.
His injuries were horrific, he was barely breathing, his pulse was extraordinarily faint.
He was rushed to Starship hospital's intensive care unit and placed in an induced coma.
Miraculously, the little boy survived and recovered - the only light in his family's dark story.
Violence, abuse, secrets and pain - Sherine Nath's scary marriage
The Herald revealed soon after Nath and Sherine died that their marriage had been marred by domestic violence, that he was facing active charges for assaulting her when he killed her.
Sherine had kept the abuse to herself for years and it was the first time police and the courts had been involved.
Her family knew though - some had even seen the abuse first hand.
"We were all so worried for her … We definitely did not want her going back to him," her sister Sagrika Kumar said at the time.
So how did Sherine end up back with Nath? What led to her killing? And could anything or anyone have saved her?
Coroner Alison Mills was tasked with answering those questions and after a lengthy investigation, released her final reports into the murder-suicide this week.
Separate reports for Sherine and Nath, spanning more than 68 pages in total, delve deep into the troubled marriage and domestic abuse within migrant relationships.
Coroner Mills said the case highlighted that more needed to be done to help women - particularly migrants - and their family and friends identify the "danger signs" of domestic abuse.
She also called for additional and more specific programmes for migrant men who perpetrated the abuse, saying New Zealand fell short in that space.
"Increasing the knowledge and understanding of domestic violence and the behaviours that are associated with greater risks may help women who are in danger from
their partner," said Coroner Mills. "It may also help others identify potentially dangerous relationships."
Riki Nath was a possessive, controlling and manipulative man who abused his wife for 14 years before killing her. Photo / Supplied
Coroner Mills said that based on the evidence gathered for her by police, Nath began abusing Sherine soon after they married in 2005.
Sherine was just 17 when she met Nath, who had come to Auckland from Fiji.
He "was wanting to get married in order to gain residency in New Zealand" and his aunt introduced him to Sherine.
They married soon after and Sherine became isolated from her family, who did approve of the union or like Nath's family.
Coroner Mills said the physical and emotional abuse started early in their relationship.
"Sherine's subsequent statements to police and friends, as well as observations from her family and friends, suggest that there was significant and serious physical and emotional abuse right from the start of the marriage," she said.
"Sherine also later stated that the physical abuse happened in front of Riki's family,
but no one intervened or came to her assistance.
"Sherine's mother also recalled Sherine calling and telling her not to tell anyone they were talking as she was scared and thought she might get in trouble."
Sherine's sisters later told authorities that the relationship was "troubled" from the get-go, that she "always seemed a bit scared of him" and Nath was "controlling and possessive".
After she died police found Sherine's diaries and the Coroner said they contained "at least seven entries of serious sexual and physical violence".
On May 6 2006 Sherine noted: "My husband hit me with a belt" and on May 21 "my husband tried to kill me, he put his hand over my face so I won't breath [sic]".
Workmates told investigators Nath "would get angry" if she did not call him at every break or respond to his messages immediately.
He was paranoid she was having an affair and they remembered "hearing him on the phone getting angry and calling her names".
Nath's violence reduced somewhat after Sherine gave birth to their son in 2015 but his psychological abuse was unrelenting.
As time went on, the anger, the arguments, the accusations and the abuse escalated.
But it wasn't until Nath viciously attacked her in front of her son, demanded sex and threatened to harm himself and the boy if Sherine left him - that she decided enough was enough.
The attack occurred on February 20 but Sherine waited for her mother to return home from a trip to India before she reported the abuse to police and her GP on March 8.
That day she moved out - and Nath was arrested.
Riki Nath - a 'high risk of harm' to his abused wife
He admitted to police that he had attacked Sherine, but "minimised the seriousness of the assault".
He was charged with assault with intent to injure and threatening to injure for the purpose of intimidation and appeared in the Manukau District Court the next day.
A risk assessment undertaken by police at the time concluded there was a "high risk of harm" to Sherine but Nath - who'd never been before the courts before - was granted bail.
His bail conditions including not contacting Sherine - directly or indirectly - and he was forbidden from going to the house where she was living or her workplace.
On October 17, 2019 the Manukau District Court issued a Final Protection Order
in favour of Sherine.
Nath did not oppose the order.
He admitted the assault and the court heard he had completed a "living without violence" programme and there, he had "learned how to control himself".
He was due to be sentenced on January 23, 2020 - but by then he would be dead.
Sherine Nath died in December 2019 but her little boy survived the attack by his own father. Photo / Supplied
Coroner Mills said that in the months leading up to her murder Sherine faced "ongoing harassment" from Nath - personally and via his family.
"Despite the protection order and non-contact bail provisions, Sherine was placed under significant pressure to return to live with Riki," said Coroner Mills.
"Between 1 October 2019 and 23 December 2019 Riki sent many texts to her and called numerous times.
"The majority of the time Sherine either did not answer or respond or responded by telling him, 'I told you to stop'.
"Riki's texts varied between pleas for her to return, expressions of remorse as well as anger and abuse."
Coroner Mills said Nath was also using his son "as an excuse to continue to contact Sherine and to keep a track of her movements".
Nath was "very persistent" and "made numerous promises" to Sherine in the text messages about how he had changed and how he would be different if she came back to live with him.
Sherine and her family were also called incessantly by someone from private numbers.
The person would call up to almost 60 times a day and hang up when someone answered.
Police could not prove it was Nath, but Coroner Mills said given they effectively stopped after he was spoken to by officers, he was the most likely culprit.
The court referred Sherine to Shakti - an organisation servicing migrant and refugee women that provides domestic violence intervention services.
"Sherine again reported her history of sexual, physical and psychological abuse as well as intimidation and threats," said Coroner Mills.
"Sherine told Shakti that, in the past, Riki had threatened that if she took his son away, he would harm her son and her family. She also disclosed that he had repeatedly said he would kill their son and take his own life if she left him.
"A basic safety plan was prepared, and a referral was made for legal assistance and for counselling.
"Her caseworker from Shakti followed up with Sherine with emails and offers of support but it appears that Sherine did not engage much after the initial contact."
Nath simply would not give up trying to get his wife back - even travelling to stand outside his son's daycare at pick-up time to confront Sherine.
"Riki was always just on at her, putting so much pressure on her and manipulating her," said a friend.
"She thought she should give him another chance for [her son's] sake".
In the weeks before she returned to Nath, he sent a barrage of texts to Sherine putting "increasing pressure" on her.
"If you come home the judge won't give any hard punishment," he said.
"If you don't come back I will go to prison."
Sherine Nath was terrified of her husband and tried to leave him but was coerced into returning. Days later he killed her. Photo / Supplied
Eight months after Sherine left, Nath's constant grinding finally worked and she agreed to go back to him.
"It is not entirely clear why Sherine finally agreed to this," said Coroner Mills.
"Her mother told her not to go back as Riki might hit her again. Her mother was upset that she was going back but could not stop her.
"Sherine told a sister that she didn't really know why she was moving back. She said she didn't love Riki any more, but she was moving back anyway."
Sherine cried and said, "I just can't tell you why", although she later told her sister she went back for her son.
On December 21, Sherine and Nath fought when she went to drop off some clothes at the house.
She told Nath she did not want stay that day, that she wanted to spend more time with her mother, but she would be back.
His cousin heard him screaming at Sherine, saying, "Why are you going? I thought you were comfortable living with me now, I've been waiting nine months."
"I can't take this any more," Nath ranted.
Sherine messaged Nath later that day and said: "I'm scared to come to you. You will hurt me again I know."
When she arrived back on December 23 with her son, the cousin said Nath was "really happy, and cried with happiness".
It was the beginning of what would be a very violent end.
A murder, a suicide, a little boy left behind
Coroner Mills concluded that Nath's death was a suicide and that he was the only person responsible for Sherine's death and the little boy's injuries.
"I cannot presume to know precisely what led Riki to take the drastic action he took," she said.
"A decision to end one's own life is often difficult to understand: To decide to end
the life of another and to attempt to end the life of your son is even more difficult to comprehend."
Coroner Mills said the case had all the hallmarks of familicide - the killing of
children and partners.
She said the majority of men who committed familicide had known issues with possessiveness and control, have previous threats of harm and suicide and previous intimate family violence.
"Riki exhibited many of these characteristics. He was extremely possessive and
controlling of Sherine," she said.
"Jealousy and the fear that Sherine would leave him may also have been factors
that contributed to his decision."
Coroner Mills was very clear that Nath - and only Nath - was to blame for the tragedy.
"He is the sole person responsible for it. No responsibility at all can be attached to Sherine, who was a victim of his violence," she ruled.
The killing had caused "enormous grief and loss" to many people and Coroner Mills hoped she could, through her comments and recommendations, prevent similar cases in future.
"Sadly, Sherine is not the only migrant woman to have experienced domestic violence," she said.
"Domestic violence is predominantly perpetrated by men. There are many complex reasons why women living in abusive relationships stay or return to their abuser.
"For migrant ethnic women, this is exacerbated by a range of complex cultural factors."
Coroner Mills referred to the Family Violence Death Review Committee 2020 report which noted that within South Asian ethnic groups, men "often continue to hold tightly to the view that they had a right to control the movements of the female family members and that any potential disruption to the family unit brought shame on the wider family".
"Riki's behaviour and the control he exerted over Sherine suggests he may have held these views," she said.
"Riki attended a court-ordered stopping violence programme, however sadly this
did not appear to address his core belief system or stop his controlling and violent
"While it is impossible to speculate, had the programme addressed some of the
cultural and structural factors as suggested in the FDVRC report, things may have been different."
Coroner Mills said there were, currently," very limited ethnic-specific responses to men who use violence".
"There is, therefore, a need for more culturally appropriate programmes for men who use violence," she said
She formally recommended that the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Social Development - who fund stopping domestic violence programmes - review the range of programmes they provide and ensure that there are sufficient programmes nationally that address the specific cultural issues identified in the FVDRC Report.
The Ministry of Justice "did not respond directly to the recommendation".
Coroner Mills said it was also crucial to raise awareness around the signs of domestic violence.
"While not intended as a criticism, it is possible that if those around him had recognised and better understood the danger signs associated with a violent relationship and had intervened, this tragedy may have been prevented," she said.
"Increasing the public's knowledge and understanding of domestic violence and
the behaviours that are associated with greater risks may help women who are in danger
from their partner.
"It may also help others identify potentially dangerous relationships.
Coroner Mills said warning signs included but were not limited to: Controlling behaviour, intimidation, threats to kill, strangulation and choking physical or sexual violence, jealousy or possessiveness and stalking
"These danger signs should be taken seriously," she said.
"Riki exhibited many of these behaviours ... He was controlling, and jealous, and tracked Sherine's movements.
"It is important that those in danger know help is available."
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
- LIFELINE:0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 ,free text 234 or email [email protected] or online chat.
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
• SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666.