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IPCA finds police mishandled Little Waihi 111 call

Aaron George Izett was found guilty of murder earlier this month. Photo: Benn Bathgate/Stuff

 An investigation into the handling of a 111 call before the death of a Little Waihi toddler has found police mishandled the call.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has determined that a 111 call reporting concerns about two-year-old Nevaeh Ager’s welfare was not handled in accordance with police policy, Standard Operating Procedures and good practice.

Police found the child dead the next day.

On March 20, 2019, Nevaeh’s great-grandmother Niki Sturgess called 111 to report that she and her husband wanted help getting Nevaeh out of a house in Little Waihi, near Maketu.

Nevaeh was at the house alone with her father, Aaron Izett, while her mother was in hospital.

Among other things, Niki reported that Izett was "off his brain" and had just attacked her and her husband.

“The call taker advised Mrs Sturgess that police did not have the power to intervene because she and her husband did not have custody of Nevaeh,” says a statement from the IPCA.

“Police did not send anyone to conduct a welfare check at the house that evening.”

After receiving further reports about Izett's behaviour the next day, police went to the address and found Nevaeh's deceased body weighed down by rocks in an estuary next to the house.

Police arrested Izett shortly afterward, and later charged him with Nevaeh's murder and several other violent offences.

In November this year, a jury found him guilty of Nevaeh's murder. He is due to be sentenced in February.

The Authority completed its investigation into this incident in April 2020, but delayed reporting until the conclusion of Izett's trial.

The Authority found that the call taker coded the 111 call incorrectly, gave incorrect advice regarding Police powers and did not record vital information which may have affected the Police response to this incident.

It also found the dispatcher on duty did not check the police database for further information on Izett; and a second dispatcher later checked the database and verbally advised the first dispatcher of the relevant information, but did not copy significant information into the 111 event.

The Authority concluded that police responded appropriately to the information the call taker had recorded about the incident.

“However, had the relevant information been recorded and properly coded, police likely would have responded much earlier than they ultimately did.”

“This is an extremely sad case,” says Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.

“While police processes were found wanting, due to uncertainty about the exact timing of Nevaeh's death, it’s not possible to say whether police would have prevented her being harmed if they had gone to check on her shortly after Mrs Sturgess' calls.”

Police advised the Authority that following this incident they held "professional conversations" with the staff involved and provided further risk assessment training.

“We let Nevaeh and her family down,” says Assistant Commissioner Tusha Penny.

“Had the information from the 111 call been properly recorded and shared, police may have had an opportunity to intervene.

“We will never know whether we could have prevented this tragic outcome, and for this we are deeply sorry.

“Police come to work every day to keep our communities safe, but on this occasion, we could and should have done more.

“Police met with Nevaeh’s family yesterday to apologise in person and discuss the police response to the Authority’s findings.”

The call taker and dispatchers involved are receiving ongoing support and training to ensure they are better equipped to respond to future incidents.

The dispatchers also agreed to share their experience and lessons learned with others in the role.

 

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