Siddhesh Joshi (Editor)

Autopsy images of Ngatikaura Ngati

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Ngatikaura Ngati

Ngatikaura Ngati with a smiling face and wearing a colorful shirt.

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The Ngatikaura Ngati Story

Ngatikaura Ngati was a New Zealand-Tongan toddler who died of child abuse in January 2006. The deliberate judicial release of official autopsy photographs after the trial of his killers, for the subsequent distribution of those images on the Internet and for the subsequent debate about the images among government figures, including three successive Children's Commissioners caused controversy that was the result of the tension between the desire for privacy and respect for victims of family violence and the need for publicity to motivate changes in public attitudes to family violence.


Life and death

Ngatikaura Ngati with a smiling face and wearing a colorful shirt.

Ngati had been fostered to a cousin of his birth mother and was being raised in a Tongan language environment until shortly after his third birthday when he was returned to his birth mother, at her request. Maine Annabella Ngati, her partner, Teusila Fa'asisila, and their other children only spoke English. Within three months, Ngati was dead. 

A photo showing the arm of Ngatikaura Ngati with bruises.

Photos taken during the autopsy showed bruises from repeated beatings and weeping sores, one of which was "the size of a man's hand on his bottom." Ngati and Fa'asisila were found not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter, failing to provide a child with the necessities of life (medical care), and willful ill treatment of a child. In June, 2007, each was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison, with a minimum non-parole period of four years and eight months. Ngati gave birth to another child while in custody – which was placed with either foster or adoptive parents – and she was declined parole in November, 2011. Fa'asisila "came up for parole [in] December 2011" and "will be sent back to Tonga upon his release", but it is unclear whether he was in fact released.

Distribution of the images

A photo showing the dead body of Ngatikaura Ngati with bruises all over his body.

After trial, in an unusual and controversial move, Auckland High Court Judge Graham Lang allowed the release of the autopsy photos into the public realm, and allowed New Zealand's TV One (New Zealand) (TVNZ) to film the autopsy photographs "so that they may give pause to those people who choose to ignore that their family members are being hurt". Since then, the images have been distributed through television, email and web, fueling controversy and debate along the way.

A photo showing the butt part of Ngatikaura Ngati with bruises.

Broadcast television

TVNZ broadcast the images during a television news programme at 6pm on 6 August 2007. During that segment, Children's Commissioner Dr. Cindy Kiro is shown commenting that the public did not need to see these "graphic images to show them how badly damaged this child was." After the broadcast, she lodged a complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA), arguing that "[One News] had displayed a disregard for the rights of the young victim and exploitation of him by showing these photos". Calling the broadcast a "further abuse in death" of the child, Kiro said that it was "... questionable whether publication of autopsy photographs of a young child beaten to death could ever be in the public interest." Her complaint alleged violations of several of the BSA's standards, including "good taste and decency", "privacy", "fairness", "children's interests" and "violence".

The complaint was investigated, but was "not upheld" on all counts. With respect to "good taste and decency" the BSA acknowledged that "the autopsy images would have been distressing to some viewers. However, they conveyed the grim reality of child abuse in the context of [a news] item...." They ruled that their privacy and fairness standards did not apply to deceased individuals – they did point out, however, that TVNZ complied with the judge's stipulations against showing the boy's face and genitals, and, "in this respect, the Authority finds that TVNZ exercised care and discretion in order to preserve the child's dignity."

Regarding violence, the Authority quoted from their guidelines, which "recognises that news programmes will often contain 'violent, disturbing or alarming material', and that broadcasters 'should not falsify by omission, a world in which much violence and brutality occurs'". That TVNZ provided advance warning to viewers and didn't display the images until two minutes into the story played a role in the BSA's decision-making, especially with respect to children's interests. Although the complaints were not upheld, two of the Authority's members went on record to note that "it is unusual to see autopsy photographs in the 6pm news, particularly involving children", and that "the warning could have made a specific reference to autopsy photographs of a child in order to leave viewers in no doubt as to the content of the report."

Email petition

The images were also circulated in an email sent by a protest group calling for tougher jail terms for child abusers, with Kiro calling their use "abhorrent". Ngati's name (but not images) were used by Family First to advocate tougher sentences for child abuse and to highlight female family violence perpetrators. Family First's Bob McCroskie supported the shock value of the images. The images have also been used on placards (protest signs).

Preceding Commissioner Roger McClay said, that use of the photos would serve to raise awareness of the child abuse "epidemic", which was not well-known amongst New Zealanders. He added, "The more the public of New Zealand is aware of the problem, the more chance something will be done." Inspector Richard Middleton, who was involved in the original police case, said, "The case was very disturbing in view of the amount of violence used against a defenceless three-year-old. Anything that raises awareness and prevents it happening again is great."

Shock web sites

Some time later the photos appeared on Internet shock sites, which some have characterized as pornographic. Current Children’s Commissioner Dr. Russell Wills said he was "appalled" at their use. Even though shock sites did not create the photos, the images nevertheless fueled a squabble between two such sites in 2011, wherein one lodged an unsuccessful DCMA (copyright) complaint with Google against the other.

Court documents

  • R v Ngati HC Auckland CRI-2006-092-01919 2007 NZHC 1727 (8 May 2007)
  • R v Ngati HC Auckland CRI-2006-092-001919 2007 NZHC 1850 (15 June 2007)
  • TVNZ and Kiro - One News - Autopsy photos of child - Good taste and decency, privacy, fairness, programme classification, children's interests, and violence - Not upheld. - 2007-111 2008 NZBSA 25 (26 March 2008)
  • Fa'asisila v Minister of Immigration 2011 NZIPT 500158 (9 December 2011)
  • References

    Autopsy images of Ngatikaura Ngati Wikipedia

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