Young men boasted about raping drunk teenagers on Facebook.
Police investigated but have decided not to lay charges.
Police have completed a multi-agency investigation, Operation Clover, into the activities of a group calling themselves “The Roast Busters”. The 12 month enquiry focused on incidents involving allegations of sexual offending against a number of girls in the Waitemata Police district and wider Auckland area.
Following a lengthy and complex investigation, charges are not being laid by Police at this time regarding 8 incidents involving 7 victims and 5 suspects.
The officer in charge of Operation Clover, Detective Inspector Karyn Malthus, says this is a carefully considered decision taking into account a range of factors:
“These include the evidential test as required under the Solicitor General’s prosecution guidelines. These state that there must be a reasonable prospect of conviction for police to initiate a prosecution. Other factors included the wishes of individual victims, the admissible evidence available, the nature of the offence and the age of the parties at the time of the offending.
A substantial review of the cases has also been undertaken by the Auckland Crown Solicitor, which has been taken into account by Police in reaching its decision.
“Throughout the investigation the priority was for the welfare and privacy of the girls involved, and ensuring that all support options were made available to them.
“We have emphasised to both the victims and suspects that there is no time limit for reporting sexual offending.
“This is an important message to potential victims who have decided not to seek police assistance at this time.” said Ms Malthus.
Detective Superintendent Andy Lovelock, who provided oversight of Operation Clover, says Police is taking the rare step of releasing the investigation overview report written by Ms Malthus:
“We are doing this to provide transparency and assist the public in understanding the complexities involved, plus the steps taken by the Operation Clover team.
“The investigation was a sustained focus for 12 months and I am satisfied that every investigative avenue available to the team has been fully explored.
“Should any further disclosures be made they will be assessed on a case by case basis and investigated appropriately.” said Mr Lovelock.
Operation Clover commenced in November 2013 with support from Child Youth and Family (CYF), and the Auckland service provider HELP- Support for Sexual Abuse Survivors.
At its peak, the multi-agency team comprised over 20 staff, including 13 specialist police investigators.
Operation Clover adopted a mass allegation framework for the canvassing of all girls. Child Protection Protocols between Police and CYF were followed for girls under 17. The Adult Sexual Assault Investigation protocol was followed for girls over 17.
• 110 girls canvassed.
• 44 girls re-approached for clarification.
• 25 girls invited to provide formal statements.
• 5 girls provided formal statements.
Operation Clover began with an extensive analysis of social media. This identified girls who appeared to be engaged in online discussions that were cause for concern. As a result of this analysis and other referrals 110 girls were identified for follow up action.
Forty-four of these 110 girls were then re-approached to better understand the information or disclosures obtained.
This resulted in formal interviews being requested from 25 of the 44 girls. Following extensive consideration by these 25 girls and their parents/caregivers, the majority declined to engage in a formal interview process.
• 8 incidents involving 7 victims were identified and investigated, including 2 of the complaints received prior to the commencement of Operation Clover.
While no offences were excluded, the principal offences investigated were:
1) Sexual Violation – Rape and Unlawful Sexual Connection. (S128B Crimes Act 1961)
2) Sexual Conduct with young person under 16 (S134 Crimes Act 1961)
Persons of interest and suspects phase
• 30 persons of interest identified as persons of interest.
• 5 males identified as suspects
In total 35 males were considered by Operation Clover. Persons of interest were those against whom formal complaints had not been received, however their behaviour was of interest and warranted further enquiry.
We want to be clear that the basis for interviews of the majority of these individuals was hearsay and rumour. There is little evidence in existence to accuse the majority of persons of interest of being engaged in criminal sexual offending.
Of the 35, the culpability of 5 suspects was considered for prosecution.
Other investigative activity
The investigation included the analysis of computers, smart phones, internet accounts and social media activity and evidence gathered by way of search warrants and production orders. Support for the investigation team included the police Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand (OCEANZ) team, and the police Electronic Crime Laboratory (ECL).
Wider issues arising from Operation Clover
Detective Inspector Malthus says Operation Clover has highlighted some significant issues for New Zealand:
“The investigation overview report cites research by the Auckland service provider HELP- Support for Sexual Abuse Survivors in partnership with the Tu Wahine Trust. Their research suggests that there are many barriers which young people feel in relation to the disclosure of sexual violence to adults.
“The prevalence of alcohol in the lives of the teenagers interviewed, both male and female, was a concern to the Operation Clover team.
“There was also a poor understanding amongst the males and females spoken to as what ‘consent’ was. In addition there was an equally poor understanding by these teenagers as to the role alcohol consumption played in potentially negating the ability to consent.
“It is suggested that sexual education programmes may be enhanced by raising the emphasis around the issues of consent particularly when linked to alcohol and drugs and the ability of individuals to provide informed consent.” said Ms Malthus.
Operation Clover has been a priority investigation which has utilised all the expert resources needed within Police and our support agencies.
I have taken a close interest in this investigation and I am confident police have conducted a thorough and professional enquiry in what has been a challenging and complex case. The Operation Clover team has ensured that victims have been the primary concern throughout.
I accept that the decision not to lay charges will prompt a range of reactions. The behaviour of this group caused a significant public response and there was a strong expectation in the minds of many that a prosecution would result.
I also acknowledge that questions remain around the initial handling of the investigation prior to the commencement of Operation Clover. We must await the outcome of the IPCA investigation into these matters before we can address these questions. We put victims at the centre of everything we do and we will consider the IPCA report very carefully.
The investigation overview report of Detective Inspector Karyn Malthus, together with the research report from the service provider HELP – Support for Survivors of Sexual Abuse in partnership with Tu Wahine Trust, highlights some difficult issues for our communities. An example is the barriers which young people experience in disclosing unwanted sexual activity to adults. . . .
These are complex issues and I am committed to ensuring that, with our focus on prevention, police will play its part in addressing them with our partner agencies.
We know that sexual assault in all age groups is under-reported. I am committed to ensuring that victims of all ages have trust in police and they can be assured their complaint will be thoroughly and professionally investigated.
I would like to acknowledge Detective Inspector Malthus and the Operation Clover team for their commitment to this 12 month enquiry. I would also like to thank our support agencies including CYF and HELP – Support for Survivors of Sexual Abuse for their expert assistance and support.
The police report is here.
It appears that reluctance on behalf of at least some victims could have made it difficult for police to gather enough evidence to be confident of gaining a prosecution.
This isn’t uncommon in rape cases.
It’s easy for those of us not involved to judge the perpetrators guilty from the information that has been made public.
But immoral behaviour isn’t necessarily illegal and something that looks like illegal behaviour isn’t necessarily enough to secure a conviction.
There might not be sufficient evidence to prosecute, but there is enough in the public domain to justify calling the whole episode shameful.
There are also lots of questions left unanswered, some of which are difficult to canvas without appearing to blame the victims.
Whatever the provocation, there is no excuse for rape and being too drunk to say no is too drunk to give consent.