Labour calls for inquiry into Robert Burrett child abuse case

Felix Marwick, NZ Herald Staff,
Publish Date
Wed, 13 Apr 2016, 5:19am
Robert Burrett (Supplied)

Labour calls for inquiry into Robert Burrett child abuse case

Felix Marwick, NZ Herald Staff,
Publish Date
Wed, 13 Apr 2016, 5:19am

UPDATED: 7.45AM School vetting processes are under the microscope following the 19-and-a-half-year jail sentence imposed on former school caretaker Robert Burrett for child abuse offences.

LISTEN ABOVE: Secondary Principles Association President Sandy Pasley speaks to Mike Hosking about implications of the Burrett case

The 64-year-old grandfather admitted 21 abuse charges relating to 12 young victims, some with special needs, including rape, sodomy, forced oral sex, indecent assaults, video-taping of the offending, and watching pornography, often in his underground caretaker's shed.

The case has prompted a Ministry of Education investigation into whether all school staff should be subject to the same mandatory reporting that applies to teachers and principals.

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However, Education Minister Hekia Parata has stopped short of calling for a full inquiry into how Burrett came to work with children, despite having been forced from two schools in the North Island as principal and deputy principal after complaints about his incompetent and concerning teaching methods.

"I am assured from the work that the ministry has done that they have received no allegations of sexual impropriety in respect of this person," Ms Parata said.

RACHEL SMALLEY: Awful failures to protect kids from Burrett

"The first time that it occurred was on March 23, 2015 - that's when his employer, the bus service provider - advised the ministry and that afternoon the process kicked in."

Secondary Principals Association president Sandy Pasley told Mike Hosking more clarity is needed.

"Inappropriate behaviour can mean a lot of things and I think there are warning signals that principals, teachers or anybody sees. It's a matter of being very vigilant around young children."

Labour MP Chris Hipkins said the case highlights that if a person is struck off as a teacher, there's nothing to stop them from being employed in another non-teaching role in a school.

"There does need to be adequate systems in place to stop that from happening," he said.

Mr Hipkins said it's very clear the system has let victims down and there does need to be an investigation into what went wrong.

"Because it's very clear that along the way some of the people making decisions about his employment didn't have all of the information that they needed to make a good decision and to avoid this from happening."

But Ms Parata said we have to remember the vast majority of people working in the school system are highly trusted individuals who every day do great work.

"And what we have done is strengthen the process from the school level through to the education council, and of course to the Police."

Child psychologist Sara Chatwin believes there would've been many indications that Robert Burrett was up to something.

Chatwin from Mindworks told Rachel Smalley she is sure many people could have stepped in. 

"Along the way there would be many signs that there's something going on, that there's something not right. Even his insistence to driving a bus, there must have been pressures that he put on people to get to where he was."

Chatwin said parents shouldn't feel silly for asking questions.

"Parents have a right wherever they send there children to ask any questions as they want if it pertains to the safety of a child."