IPCA finds flaws in Police's handling of inappropriate student-teacher relationship case

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found a number of flaws in the way a police officer handled the investigation of an alleged inappropriate relationship between a 13-year-old girl and her teacher.

The alleged inappropriate behaviour took place between Reiha McLelland, a student at Gisborne Intermediate, and Sam Back, who was later struck off for serious misconduct.

Reiha was found dead in July of 2014 after being told she could not continue to see Back.

Reiha's parents made a complaint in April last year about the way the Gisborne Police Child Protection Team investigated the case - their investigation concluded in June of 2014 and they found no evidence of criminal offending.

The IPCA found the the investgation by the GPCPT was flawed in numerous ways:

  • the CPT investigating officer did not adequately assess the evidence
  • notwithstanding the inadequacy of the Police assessment, the Authority agrees that there was insufficient evidence available to Police to charge Mr Back with a criminal offence
  • the investigating officer's supervisor had a conflict of interest which was not properly managed, and consequently the investigation was not adequately supervised
  • the investigation plan was inadequate and not all appropriate inquiries were conducted
  • information obtained from the interviews of Reiha and Mr Back was not recorded appropriately
  • the interview of Mr Back was not conducted properly.

Police said in a statement today that they accept the findings, with Eastern District Commander Superintendent Tania Kura saying "we have to be better than this".

"It is very clear that there were a number of issues with how the investigation was carried out, including a lack of supervision, inadequate assessment and recording of evidence, and inappropriate management of a conflict of interest," Mr Kura said.

"In particular, it is crucial that all officers – no matter what rank they are – are able to identify a potential conflict of interest and know how to appropriately manage it.

"It is also vital that appropriate supervision is in place for all investigating officers.

"Notwithstanding the issues identified by the IPCA - and by our own internal investigation into this matter - I am satisfied, as is the IPCA, that the ultimate outcome of this case was the correct one: there was insufficient evidence to charge Samuel Back with a criminal offence.

"While I cannot speak for Reiha’s family, I do want to acknowledge how extremely difficult the release of this report and the subsequent publicity must be for them.

"It has been four years since Reiha’s tragic death and I'm sure the pain of her family and friends has not diminished in that time.

"Reiha's death weighs heavily on all those involved in this case.

"I hope to meet with Reiha's family in the coming days to discuss the IPCA’s findings, but for now I simply want to extend my sincere personal sympathy to her family and loved ones." 

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Source: 1 NEWS