‘Parents heartbreak sentence enough’

NZ Herald 6 June 2015
Washington Post magazine reporter Gene Weingarten wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning article interviewing 13 parents who had accidentally killed their young children by leaving them inside a car. Following yesterday’s decision to discharge a Whanganui mother without conviction, he tells Morgan Tait why he strongly believes parents should not be prosecuted in these circumstances.

I spent almost a year on that story, during which time I spoke with 13 people who had done this to their children. As I recall, there were seven men and six women. Some remained deeply wounded, paralysed by their grief and guilt; some had managed to better transcend these things, and move unsteadily on. Some of the 13 were reserved and guarded, some were more open. Some of them had been prosecuted, some not.

One thing that bound them together was their absolute certitude that these cases should not be prosecuted. I came to agree with them.

From their perspective, it is entirely about helping these people heal. They are already in an unfathomable hell. They have lost a child. They caused it. There is no greater psychological burden I can imagine. When they are prosecuted, two things happen: They are so busy defending themselves that they have no time to grieve, which, as any grief counsellor will tell you, is a dreadful thing.
Second, their marriage – already deeply strained by a sense of betrayal – is further imperilled by introducing a huge financial burden.

That’s what the parents say. They are biased, but they are also in a unique position to analyse this. I agree with them, but my reasons extend further.