Bay of Plenty Times

Accused cared for murdered teenager

- Sam Hurley Herald

A former Child, Youth and Family worker accused of abusing nearly 20 boys can now be revealed as a man who once cared for a teen murdered in the back of a prison van.

Earl Opetaia’s name suppressio­n lapsed at 5pm yesterday after his legal counsel refrained from appealing a December High Court judgment revoking the suppressio­n order.

The former approved CYFS worker, who looked after Liam Ashley before he was murdered in 2006, faces a total of 43 charges over allegation­s of abusing 17 boys. Opetaia has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and is due to go on trial in April in the High Court at Auckland.

Crown prosecutor Sam Teppett argued for Opetaia’s name to be published before his trial so that other potential complainan­ts might come forward.

Of the 17 complainan­ts, 14 were allegedly sexually abused by Opetaia over several weeks or months, while the Crown says others endured physical abuse when he was working for CYFS — now Oranga Tamariki.

One boy was allegedly assaulted with a bamboo stick.

The Crown claims Opetaia also threatened to kill other boys and supplied some teens with methamphet­amine and cannabis. The ex-caregiver’s alleged offending stems from the mid-2000s and after a police investigat­ion, dubbed Operation Elephant, Opetaia was charged just before Christmas 2018.

Opetaia is best known for caring for Ashley before the 17-year-old was assaulted by George Baker while both were being transporte­d to Auckland Central Remand Prison in 2006. Ashley died in hospital the next day.

The Auckland man who worked with at-risk youth as a boxing trainer, said after Ashley’s death that funding and support was often too quickly cut for troubled teens.

Youths in state care, Opetaia said, could become lost in the system, be sent to a dozen different homes, and often had little or no contact with their biological parents.

Also in 2006, Opetaia spoke of his sister’s death in 1966 after she suffered neglect, abuse and beatings when the siblings were placed in the care of friends.

And in 2008, he was quoted in a article about state care abuse and said the onus fell on parents to ensure their children’s safety.

In a separate court case, a High Court judge granted permanent name suppressio­n last month to another ex-oranga Tamariki worker who sexually groomed a then 15-year-old boy. The woman was sentenced to 10 months’ home detention last October.

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