Long read: Dark secret buried deep in past

Victim Support’s former southern area manager, David Charteris, was yesterday jailed for 14 years...
Victim Support’s former southern area manager, David Charteris, was yesterday jailed for 14 years for sexually abusing a pre-teen boy. PHOTO: CRAIG BAXTER
The region’s former head of Victim Support was yesterday jailed for 14 years for sexually abusing a pre-teen boy. Dunedin’s David Charteris has had name suppression for the two and a-half years since charges were laid but he can now be unmasked. Rob Kidd investigates the secrets — nearly 20 years old — which unravelled in court ...

David John Charteris was there to help.

As Victim Support's former southern area manager, he spent a decade looking after the vulnerable, the broken and the traumatised.

The 65-year-old ex-photographer for The Press newspaper in Christchurch led a team of six staff and more than 200 volunteers providing psychological support for the victims of crime.

Even his elderly Dunedin neighbour of several years told the Otago Daily Times he was "polite and respectful" and offered to help with her bins.

But buried deep in his past, Charteris harboured a dark secret.

He had spent months grooming and abusing a pre-pubescent boy nearly 20 years ago.

As was his way, he had been there to lend a hand when the boy's parents had split up in the late 1990s.

He would babysit, take the victim out on impromptu road trips; even the victim acknowledged he became almost a father figure during the period.

But beyond the burgeoning friendship, Charteris swiftly lured the boy into an increasingly brazen web of sex acts, the final one of which came when he turned up to join the family for a New Year's getaway in Golden Bay as the new millennium approached.

Despite him sharing a tent with his young victim and another boy, and being only metres from a group of adults, Charteris committed lewd acts under a sleeping bag.

The victim came forward and made a written statement for police in 2005. In it he said: "David had definitely put bait on the hook, cast off for his victims and lured in a big one ... an 11-year-old ... me."

The complaint lay dormant for 11 years until police decided to interview him and later put the allegations to Charteris.

So why the wait?

The victim says he has never received a definitive answer.

And police refused to shed further light on the delay yesterday.

A spokeswoman said: "We can advise that sexual offending is taken extremely seriously by police, and our approach has improved markedly in recent years."

Because Charteris was set to appeal the convictions, she said the case was still effectively before the court and refused to comment further.

Speaking to the ODT before sentencing yesterday, the victim - who is now a father himself - said following his complaint through was not simply about seeking justice for what happened to him.

If there were others out there who had also been abused, he hoped to give them vindication, whether or not they decided to approach police.

Victim Support yesterday conceded it made mistakes in handling the case, despite Charteris not working for them when the offending took place.

Chief executive Kevin Tso said, while the defendant was at the helm of the southern district's team, the organisation received an anonymous complaint about him.

It was advised not to act on such allegations but he now accepted he should have gone to police, Mr Tso said.

"Since then, we have begun thoroughly reviewing our processes to prevent anything of this nature occurring again."

Charges were originally laid against Charteris in the Dunedin District Court but the matter was transferred to Christchurch because that was where the repeated violations took place.

He denied the 12 allegations at a judge-alone trial and while Judge Raoul Neave dismissed four of them, he found the defendant guilty on the balance: seven counts of sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection and one of committing an indecency with a boy.

Yesterday, Charteris was jailed for 14 years and remained unrepentant.

His counsel, Anselm Williams, said the defendant maintained his innocence and confirmed he would take his challenge to the Court of Appeal.

Judge Neave, while praising Charteris' "excellent character" through a large part of his life, said the Parole Board would not release him until he acknowledged the harm he had meted out.

At trial, the victim recalled the first time he was violated at the defendant's St Andrews Square home.

Charteris would stand in front of a mirror, groping the boy.

What happened next, the victim labelled "the most painful experience forced upon me".

"[I was] sort of lying there like a stunned mullet, not sure how to cope or what to do," he said.

"[I] didn't know what sex was at that point."

The physical contact did not begin there, the boy - now in his 30s - told police.

He spoke about a trip to Godley Head where Charteris cuddled him from behind and spoke to him about God.

While Judge Neave found a charge of indecency was not proven, the victim said "there was an edge of creepiness" attached to the 1999 trip.

Charteris allegedly kissed the boy on the cheek and told him: "I just want to eat you right up." There were also several trips to the Waimakariri River in 1999, the court heard.

Charteris would drive the boy to secluded areas, find an isolated spot where they could not be seen, then the indecencies would occur.

A similar instance occurred at Port Levy, a small settlement on Banks Peninsula.

The victim said Charteris had imposed on him "a life sentence of guilt, anger and turmoil".

"David knew from life experience I was easy pickings and yet he exploited that in the most despicable way," he said.

Charteris must have known the position of trust he held in the community would have acted as a barrier to him coming forward, he told the court yesterday.

The victim's mother, who gave evidence at trial, said she had been happy for Charteris to spend time with her son.

She had a relatively busy life and when she split up with her partner, she welcomed the help.

The fact Charteris was openly homosexual was never an issue, she said.

But she met a new man and Charteris gradually faded out of the family's lives some time in 2000.

The ordeal, however, never diminished for the victim.

He told female relatives about the abuse he had suffered but swore them to secrecy.

However, when the boy's mother started to become concerned about her son's mental state in 2005 one of the girls disclosed what she had been told.

She immediately confronted her son.

His response told her everything she needed to know.

"I will never forget my child lying on the floor, howling, wailing and shaking ... like an animal on that floor. Just broken. It will be with me forever."

And Charteris' response to the allegations?

It did not happen.

When he sat in the witness box, he suggested the victim could have been abused - but he was not the perpetrator.

"[He] may have had those experiences, but they were not with me," he told the court.

He admitted he spent time alone with the boy, that they would go on rural excursions together and that they would spend the night together.

"The relationship with [him], well I guess, again it was one of those spontaneous, organic things that developed about shared interests," Charteris said.

There was no sexual contact, he repeatedly stressed.

Charteris told the court he would not have let the boy see him naked in any case because he was so self-conscious about the amount of body hair he had.

The defence even called the man's former partner of 23 years to confirm Charteris' unease at being seen naked.

The majority of the intimacy they shared came with the lights off, the witness said.

What Judge Neave found more significant was Charteris' attempts to play down his role as a mentor to the victim.

Crown prosecutor Andrew McRae cross-examined the defendant on his version of events.

"That's your background, isn't it? You are all about supporting those that are vulnerable?"

Charteris agreed but sought to distance himself from the family.

"Not in a deliberate way ... I was out here on the periphery ... I was just being helpful, a friend," he said.

Judge Neave - in a reserved decision released to the ODT - said the responses were telling.

"This appears to be a real attempt on the defendant's part to try and distance himself from the closeness of the relationship that he had with [the victim] and the family ... This gives me a very clear impression of the defendant tailoring his answers to suit the evidence that had come out earlier in the case," the judge said.

Charteris claimed he had withdrawn from contact with the victim because he believed there was "a target on my back".

The boy was showing homosexual tendencies and he thought he might be blamed by the parents.

He also told the court of an incident when he was babysitting when the victim got out of bed and climbed on top of him.

Charteris said he pulled the boy off and sent him back to bed but was made so uncomfortable by incident that he ceased contact.

Judge Neave said there was nothing to corroborate this alternative narrative.

The defence case was that the victim had lied about the abuse, found that it had helped him bond with his family and then the falsehoods had spiraled out of control when police became involved.

The boy revelled in drama, liked to be centre of attention and might have made the allegations as revenge for Charteris leaving his life, counsel Anselm Williams suggested.

Judge Neave totally rejected those propositions.

"I have to say this strikes me as fanciful," he said.

If the victim had sought revenge, surely he would have complained about Charteris sooner and spread the vitriol more widely, the judge said.

If the boy had been caught in a lie, he had 11 years to withdraw his complaint while it languished with police.

It came down to credibility, Judge Neave said.

The victim's evidence was "clear, logical and compelling".

"I found the complainant to be a credible witness as a matter of impression. His evidence was given without rancour or exaggeration ... He did not, in popular parlance, attempt to put the boot in. Furthermore, there were no internal inconsistencies nor was his account inherently illogical or improbable," the judge said.

The victim had no reason to lie.

Charteris, on the other hand, was able to recall minute details from 20 years ago.

Why should that be so if the contact with the victim was so benign, the judge asked.

Charteris was lying, and constructing a narrative to suit the evidence the court had previously heard.

He now has a month to lodge his appeal.

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