Here sits a boy. He is slumped in a low, blue chair with his gangly limbs folded at an awkward angle.

He wears his school uniform, one of his socks slouched, and a permanent furrow in his brow.

Amid the sterile surrounds of the interview room at the Counties Manukau Police Station, he tells the specialist child interviewer questioning him he feels “weird and uncomfortable” talking about the things the man he refers to as “Mister” did to him.

Published in Stuff

When gently asked to elaborate on the things that were done to him, the boys tells the floor in front of him: “Getting touched in a sexual way, and being forced to do stuff I don’t want to do”.

“Mister” is Alosio Taimo, a rugby coach and long-time teacher aide at the boy’s previous school. Over the next 45 minutes, the 13-year-old haltingly details how his rugby coach routinely sexually assaulted him over a period of two years at Taimo’s home, in his car and in the sports shed at school.

“Who knows who else he has done this to?” the boy wonders aloud at one point.

By the time the DVD recording of this interview is shown to a jury of seven men and five women at the High Court in Auckland two years later, 17 more victims Taimo has done this to have come forward.

In laying out the specifics of the 83 charges (later increased to 106 charges during the trial) for his opening address – a painstaking process that took more than two hours – Jasper Rhodes, the Crown prosecutor, pauses awkwardly at several points, as if he can’t bear to utter the things that happened.

But there is no elegant slight of the English language Rhodes can find to delicately convey the sexual acts Taimo committed on these boys, and induced them to do to him.

When the details come they are shocking, disturbing, and share haunting similarities for each of the victims, some of whom are separated by nearly 30 years in age.

The boy on the TV screen was the first to go to the police.

His aunty had overheard him talking in hushed tones to his younger cousins about Taimo, and thought they were up to mischief. When the boy finally gave in and told her what he had been talking about, he set off a chain of events that would lead to Taimo sitting in the dock of courtroom 6 at the High Court, facing 27 charges of sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection, 22 of an indecent act on a child under 12, 33 of an indecent act on a young person under 16, 10 charges of indecency with a boy under 12 and 14 of indecency with boy between 12 and 16.

It was hard for the boy’s aunt to take in at first. What her nephew was telling her was so shocking, so “out there” that it took her some time to truly grasp what had been going on.

The jolts kept coming. The young boy also told his Aunty that one of her sons, who was not at home at the time, had also been sexually abused by Taimo.

She immediately called her son. The awful question she needed to ask him was not even fully formed when the teenager replied: “Mum, how did you know?”

Her son would be complainant number two.

More than two years on from those the horrifying revelations in her lounge room, the woman says the feeling at the pit of her stomach has not left her.

“When I got that confirmation from my son … I can’t find the words to explain to you how I felt. There’s no words in the world to describe that feeling,” the woman, who can not be named as it would identify the victims, told Stuff.

“I had to find out from another child what my child was going through at the time.

“My son has never lied to me, we have a open and honest relationship and we share everything. But this, this he carried all on his own, and it breaks my heart.”

With young children at the school where Taimo was employed as a teacher aide, the woman first raised the alarm with the principal. Hours later, her nephew would give his first police interview, in which he told them how his coach regularly had boys from his rugby team stay over at his Otara home.

The boy also told police of times when, as one of the sports monitors at his school, he would be paged to the sports shed by Taimo and indecently assaulted.

Given Taimo’s position at the school and his links to a South Auckland rugby club, Police set about the painstaking job of identifying other potential victims. A long list of more than 200 children Taimo had regular contact with was drawn up. The boys considered the most “at-risk” in the group were put through a screening process.

The subsequent investigation found a further eight young boys, in addition to the first complainant and his cousin, Taimo had offended against. One was nine at the time.

All 10 boys were linked by their school or the rugby club. All were Pasifika. All shared an unspoken secret.

Now here the boy appears again, two years older, on the same TV screen in front of the court. He is giving evidence via audio visual link from a location elsewhere in building so he does not have to come face-to-face with the man who destroyed his childhood.

He is still only 15 and struggles to articulate what happened to him, but offers a searing insight into Taimo’s motivations and the way in which the revered junior rugby coach manipulated the young boys in his care.

“When Mister is angry, he treats me like crap,” the boy with the furrow in his brow says, recalling a time when Taimo had bought hot chips for the kids staying at his house, but refused to offer any to the boy as he had not done the things asked of him the night before.

The boy also offered shrewd observations about Taimo’s duplicitous nature, and the way he went about earning the trust of the boys’ parents and caregivers.

“He called me ‘baby’, but I noticed he always called me ‘son’ in front of all the other parents. My parents trusted him, but they didn’t know what was going on in his house,” the boy says.

“I always knew he was using us.”

Now here sits a man. He is tall, well-dressed in a black winter coat and dark jeans. He has a deep voice, but is softly spoken, lending him quiet authority.

He has waived his right to give evidence behind a screen and appears before the court. Outwardly he has a calm, composed demeanour and appears unrattled by the surroundings. It is only the clasping and reclasping of his knotted hands in front of him that hint at any inner discomfit.

The man, who is now in his 40s, has a partner and children, runs a successful business, and played rugby to a high level. It is just the life his parents might have imagined for him when, at a young age, they sent him from Samoa to live with family in New Zealand.

They could never have imagined the unspeakable things that happened to him in the converted garage he shared with his cousins at their Otara home. He vowed never to tell them.

“I left my mum and dad when I was really young and it was hard,” he tells Stuff, choking back tears.

“I suppose that’s one of the reasons I didn’t really want them to find out because I understood what they were trying to do at the time when they let me go. My mum and dad just wanted the best for me, I never wanted them to take the blame for anything bad that happened to me.

“They were never going to foresee the stuff that would happen to their kid.”

What happened to “their kid” was Taimo.

Sitting before the court, the man in the sharp winter coat unflinchingly relives the events of nearly 30 years ago.

He recalls how he woke one night to find Taimo, who was a family friend, touching his genitals. He says Taimo then forced the then 12-year-old to masturbate him, commanding him with the words “la fai” – Samoan for “do it”.

“It was just shock … as a 12-year-old you’re pretty much – your body is frozen.”

The man tells the court how after the first incident he used a tap outside to wash his hands, before crying himself to sleep. Taimo preyed on him a second time, about a year after the first incident, again when the boy was sleeping alone in the garage.

“When you are by yourself – that’s when the darkness happened,” he says.

The man told his long-time partner soon after they got together back in the mid-1990s about what happened to him as a child. He had never contemplated telling anyone else, until he saw the name Alosio Taimo pop up in his news feed in April last year.

“When I was reading it I just felt sick, I was like ‘oh man, [51] charges’,” he told Stuff.

“All this time, I thought it was just me and I was the only one he did these things to, but obviously that wasn’t the case.”

The man was one of eight who came forward after Taimo’s name suppression lapsed, with the new complaints stemming from offending from the late 1980s to the mid-2000s.

He says coming face-to-face with Taimo in the courtroom after all these years had no impact on him.

“I don’t really feel anything towards [Taimo]. I’ve just concentrated on my life and I’ve tried to never let him get into my head. I’ve always told myself that the mind is such a powerful thing. It can either be your best asset, or your worst enemy. So I’ve always thought along the lines of behaving like that,” he says.

“I’ve just tried to put the past behind me and concentrated on becoming someone that was meaningful to my family.”

Others have not been able to find the closure he has, and the man has seen first hand the impact of that.

His cousin is another of Taimo’s victims.

Over a period of five years the man’s cousin was regularly sexually violated by Taimo and induced to perform sexual acts on the older man. The offending starting just months after Taimo arrived in Auckland from Samoa in July 1986.

The man says it has led his cousin down a destructive path, and, 30 years on, he struggles with depression.

“I keep in contact with my cousin a lot, and he keeps blaming himself for what has happened. I always keep telling him ‘man, we were just kids when this happened to us. The guy that was meant to be the one that we looked up to and the one that would point us in the right direction was the guy that was hurting us’.”

Here sits another man. A man described by the complainants as a manipulative man, a sneaky man, a possessive man, a controlling man.

Taimo.

Day after day the 55-year-old has sat in the dock staring straight ahead, his face impassive as one after another 18 complainants outline the awful abuse they suffered at his hands. He has denied any offending, pleading not guilty to all 106 charges.

Throughout the trial he makes notes in a 1B8 notebook as each witness gives their evidence, sharing his thoughts with his defence team of Panama Le’au’anae and Tua Saseve at each of the breaks.

The woman who first raised the alarm about Taimo with the school back in August 2016 says she is angry he has put the young boys through the trauma of reliving their experiences in front of a jury.

“He’s a monster,” she says.

“To say that these kids are making up the story, getting together and just inventing it – how? How would any kid be able to come up with a story like that?

“To be this cruel to children, innocent children, he took something from them.”

Details that were coaxed out of the witnesses during defence cross examination only served to work against Taimo, as the Crown ratcheted up the number of charges from 83 to 106 as a result of the new information.

Taimo’s turn to talk comes at the beginning of week seven, when he takes the stand in his defence. He will remain there for more than seven days – an unavoidable exercise in endurance for the court when the defendant has more than 100 charges to answer for.

Taimo’s response to every allegation put to him is: “That’s never happened”.

His evidence in chief alone goes for three-and-a-half days as he runs the jury through the minutiae of his life – his family commitments, various living arrangements over the years, work hours with former jobs, school regulations, rugby selection protocols, and logistics around school drop-offs. At times, Taimo gets his tense mixed up, as those for whom English is a second language tend to do, leading to some confusion.

He uses the words “never” and “always” a lot.

In the case of the historic complaints, Taimo contends he “never” had any opportunity to abuse these kids as he was too busy working and trying to establish a life for himself in New Zealand, and, by the early 90s, “always” taking care of his young family.

Under cross-examination, Rhodes produces an affidavit from Taimo’s former partner, which was provided to the Family Court as part of proceedings brought in 1994. It tells a different story.

In supporting an application for one of Taimo’s sisters to take custody of their three children, his former partner, who was deported to Samoa in 1993, said Taimo “did not spend any time with the children and was never around to look after the kids”.

In response to the charges relating to the younger group of victims, Taimo paints himself as a mentor to the boys, helping them excel both on the sports field and academically. He says he selflessly gave up his time and money to run the boys to and from their rugby trainings, feed them, and have them stay over during weekends and holidays.

“I could see the potential in these boys,” he says.

It is an act many parents bought for a very long time.

“To us, he was an angel. We worshipped the ground he walked on,” says the mother of one of the victims.

“If he asked me for anything, like money, I would give it. We thought he was this wonderful guy who gave his time up to help these kids that weren’t so privileged – kids that didn’t have their parents around all the time. But he took advantage of these kids.”

For many boys in the South Auckland community Taimo served, rugby is seen as a way out. For many of Taimo’s victims, rugby was a tool of entrapment.

One complainant told the court he believed he was not selected for a rep team as punishment for not cooperating with Taimo.

He tried to exercise control over the boys in other areas of their life as well, demonstrating what Rhodes described as a “propensity for jealousy and possessiveness over the young boys in his care”.

Several victims told of how he discouraged the boys from having girlfriends, even going as far as trying to interfere with their relationships, and warning the girls and young women off.

“You tried to make them all your own, didn’t you, Mr Taimo?” Rhodes put to him in cross-examination.

“No, that never happened,” Taimo responded.

The one thing Taimo cannot deny is the existence of an explicit photo recovered from his phone.

The photo, which was ruled by Justice Moore to be too graphic to show to the jury, showed a young Pasifika boy, who was identified by police but not a complainant in this case, performing oral sex on an adult male with brown skin. The background of the photo showed the same bedding as that of Taimo’s.

Taimo denied taking the photo, or that it was him in the photo.

When asked how it got on his phone, and whether he made any effort to contact the parents of the boy after learning of the disturbing image depicting sexual abuse, Taimo appears deliberately evasive. He seems to not quite understand what Rhodes is getting at, even when the questions are put to him clearly and repeatedly.

It brings to mind an observation the first complainant – the boy with the gangly limbs – made in his first interview with police.

“It’s always easy to tell when Mister is doing something, because he acts dumb.”

Here stands the jury foreman.

It has been, in the words of Justice Simon Moore, “a long and harrowing trial” for the 12-member jury.

Over the past 10 weeks the jury has heard the testimony of 46 witnesses, including that of young boys barely in their teens, been presented with hundreds of pages of documents, maps, and evidential photos.

They have heard from parents, teachers, forensic scientists, cultural experts and child psychologists.

Two of the jurors even heard the unsolicited advice of a woman who sat in the public gallery during the trial, and later approached jurors in the courtyard, offering them muffins. The woman was sent to the cells and held in contempt of court by Justice Moore.

After two-and-a-half days of deliberation, broken up by the long weekend, the jury was ready to deliver its verdicts on Wednesday morning.

Reading from the 22-page charge list, the court registrar carefully and methodically reads out each charge.

“Guilty” the foreman answers on the first charge, and the second, and the third.

Taimo, as he has been throughout the trial, appears emotionless when the foreman confirmed his fate.

His daughter, standing at the back of the court holding her infant daughter, is visibly upset.

The charge is taken out of the atmosphere over the ensuing 15 minutes in which the remaining verdicts are delivered.

In all, Taimo is found guilty on 95 charges, relating to offending against 17 of the complainants.

Justice Moore remanded Taimo for sentencing on December 14.

The mother of one of the younger victims says Taimo has already handed down his sentence to her child.

“[My son] carries the weight of what happened to him and the victims he knows as well. They’ve supported each other. Unfortunately, some of his friends are not doing so well. It has affected their life quite young. Some the boys have left school young and haven’t finished off. They’ve turned the other way. He’s seen his friends get involved with drugs and alcohol young, and yeah, that just breaks him to pieces,” she says.

“I wish that man could see the effect he has had on these kids.”

By Dana Johannsen
Published in Stuff
24 October 2018