'No light behind his eyes'

A former Otago ERO reviewer yesterday described Robin Bain as "a walking cadaver" whose responses were "robotic" during an assessment of his school in September 1993.

Joan Withers, now a senior adviser with the Ministry of Education in Hamilton, was the principal reviewer when she and a colleague went to the small rural Taieri Beach School where Robin was the principal.

She told the High Court at Christchurch she thought Robin "the most unusual person" she had ever met in her work. "There was no light behind his eyes."

Robin Bain, along with his wife Margaret, daughters Arawa and Laniet, and son Stephen, were all shot dead in their Every St home about nine months after the unfavourable ERO assessment by Ms Withers and her colleague.

The only survivor, David Cullen Bain (37), is charged with murdering the family, but the defence say Robin was the killer, that he was frustrated and depressed about being stuck at a small country school, had been pushed out of the family home, was not wanted by the family and was about to be exposed for sexually abusing Laniet.

Ms Withers was giving evidence on the second day of the defence case in Bain's retrial for the five murders.

She said she did not meet Robin until the second day of the review visit as he was ill.

When she saw him, he was working on a computer in the computer room with several pupils around him. When the bell rang for the start of school, Robin did not immediately go into the classroom. Pupils who came in were milling around, talking and, essentially, playing.

Ms Withers said as far as the computer was concerned, she would sooner have seen the pupils at the console rather than their teacher.

In the classroom, she could find no lesson plans, there was little written work in the pupils' books and no record of any evaluation taking place.

Based on what she saw, it was apparent the curriculum was not being implemented, Ms Withers said.

She raised the various points with Robin Bain, who was "very impassive" about the whole thing.

"That troubled me. He showed little emotion," Ms Withers said.

His responses were "robotic-like", most unusual and with very little feeling.

He acknowledged the various shortcomings she raised with him and, when she and a different review officer returned to the school in February the next year, there appeared to have been compliance with most of the matters highlighted in the unfavourable report.

But she said she did not know if Robin or the other teacher at the school was responsible for the changes.

Asked by Crown counsel Kieran Raftery if the February 1994 review report was a better one, Ms Withers said it was "a better review of the school".



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