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'She knew what she was doing': Woman sent injured child overseas to avoid police probe

Belinda Feek,
Publish Date
Wed, 12 Jun 2024, 9:05pm
Waikato mother of eight, Meleseke Aogamalie, 35, was sentenced to 12 months' supervision on a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice after putting a child on a plan overseas to avoid a police investigation. Photo / 123rf
Waikato mother of eight, Meleseke Aogamalie, 35, was sentenced to 12 months' supervision on a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice after putting a child on a plan overseas to avoid a police investigation. Photo / 123rf

'She knew what she was doing': Woman sent injured child overseas to avoid police probe

Belinda Feek,
Publish Date
Wed, 12 Jun 2024, 9:05pm

A mother-of-eight who was accused of hurting a child in her care reacted by putting the girl on a plane and sending her overseas before police were able to investigate.

Meleseke Aogamalie came to the attention of authorities when the girl, a pre-teen who had come to live with her from overseas, turned up to school with injuries, and staff called Oranga Tamariki.

When the allegations were raised with Aogamalie, she put the girl on a flight to go back and live with her biological mother - despite being warned by a social worker to stay away from the girl who was meant to be in alternative care.

While police were never able to investigate the assault allegations they did charge the 35-year-old with attempting to pervert the course of justice.

This week she tried, unsuccessfully, to get a discharge without conviction on that charge when she appeared in the Hamilton District Court - but Judge Noel Cocurullo deemed her offending too serious to grant that request.

‘Oranga Tamariki concerns’

The girl had been sent to New Zealand to live with Aogamalie and her family in November 2021.

Judge Cocurullo described how she was “treated somewhat differently” from the other children, including being tasked with different household chores and having to supervise the younger children.

By November 2022, the girl’s school became concerned after noticing bruising and scratches on her.

Oranga Tamariki was advised and a social worker was sent to the school who was told by the girl that Aogamalie had allegedly hit her with a broom.

She alleged she was scared to go home and urged the social worker not to tell Aogamalie otherwise she “would get smacked with a broom or something harder”.

The agreed summary of facts also describes how she had notable injuries to her arms, back and face.

The social worker phoned Aogamalie who denied assaulting her.

Concerned about returning the child to the family, the social worker arranged for the girl to spend the night and weekend at another person’s house.

Aogamalie agreed not to have further contact.

However, when the woman who was charged with her weekend care also picked up another of Aogamalie’s children and dropped him home, she was spotted by Aogamalie who asked her to get out of the car and go inside.

She told the woman that she would drop the girl round later that evening.

Instead, Aogamalie drove her to a travel agent and organised a one-way plane ticket back to her homeland for the following day.

That day, November 5, 2022, she phoned the girl’s biological mother and told her that “a surprise would be arriving on a flight” and dropped her off at the airport and put her on the plane as an unaccompanied minor.

The following Monday, Oranga Tamariki was advised as the girl did not turn up for school.

The social worker phoned Aogamalie who said the girl’s mother had returned to New Zealand and taken her back home with her.

The girl was eventually found and spoken to by a social worker overseas.

Aogamalie was spoken to by police on June 16, last year, and denied assaulting the girl and claimed the flight and ticket were pre-arranged by the girl’s mother.

Judge Cocurullo said at the heart of the case was Aogamalie’s actions - sending the child overseas - that prevented police from making inquiries and possible prosecution.

‘A bad decision and misinformation’

In arguing for a Section 106, Aogamalie’s counsel Emily Hartson-Maea outlined that English was her client’s second language and the perverting charge arose from “bad decisions made by the defendant, misinformation and the understanding of what Oranga Tamariki do”.

“She made poor decisions relating to her understanding of the English language and the circumstances in which Oranga Tamariki wished to speak with her, the misunderstanding as to what Oranga Tamariki do.

“She was advised that Oranga Tamariki were there to separate children and so that also played a part in this.”

Hartson-Maea acknowledged there were “some issues” between Aogamalie and the child so she was sent back overseas.

However, the child was still able to be interviewed by police overseas before Aogamalie paid for her flight to return to New Zealand and was then spoken to by police and Oranga Tamariki.

As a result of that interview, Aogamalie faced a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

A charge of assault with a blunt instrument was withdrawn by the crown.

Hartson-Maea said a conviction would not only impact her client’s job prospects but her husband and other children who “were all innocents in this”.

As a person with limited English, her prospects for employment were already limited. A conviction would further worsen that.

She had wanted to study to become a doctor but was currently a full-time mother.

Aogamalie provided character references that stated she was “normally a person of standing, an honest person who has made a mistake”.

“This is not a hardened criminal.

“This is not a person who has significant education in being able to understand the law, although ignorance of the law is not an excuse but is something that needs to be taken into account. As soon as she instructed counsel was advised that she’d done was wrong.”

‘She knew exactly what she was doing’

Crown solicitor Scarlett Hartstone said the assault charge had to be withdrawn “because we simply couldn’t get the evidence to pursue the charge”.

“She knew exactly what she was doing.

“She talks about speaking to a friend about who Oranga Tamariki are and given her actions of putting a child on a flight the very next day.

“She can claim innocence and naivety but she knew what she was doing and circumvented justice in New Zealand.”

Judge Cocurullo told her he couldn’t send her to jail, given she was a first offender and a full-time mother, and he would have to give her a supervision sentence as she hadn’t consented to a report about any electronically monitored options.

“Supervision strikes me as inadequate given the nature of the charge,” Hartstone replied, but the judge said he had no other option and didn’t want to adjourn sentencing.

Aogamalie was convicted and sentenced to 12 months’ supervision.


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• Crisis line - 0800 742 584 (available 24/7) 
• Ministry of Justice: For information on family violence 
• Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga: National Network of Family Violence Services 
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women. 
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Belinda Feek is an Open Justice reporter based in Waikato. She has worked at NZME for nine years and has been a journalist for 20.

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