Gloriavale inquest: Leader didn't want WorkSafe involved - sister

One of the photos Sincere Standtrue's family have put on display at the inquest in Greymouth....
Several factors will be considered by the Coroner's Court over the course of the inquest, including the cause and circumstances of Sincere Standtrue's death, as well as his mindset. Pool photo: Joanne Naish/The Press
By Niva Chittock

A sister of Gloriavale man Sincere Standtrue says a community leader told her family just hours after after he was found unresponsive that he did not want WorkSafe involved.

Rose Standtrue has given evidence at the Greymouth inquest into the 20-year-old's death in Christchurch Hospital's intensive care unit, 10 days after he was discovered unresponsive in Gloriavale's paint shop in 2018.

Among the issues Coroner Alexandra Cunninghame was exploring was whether his death was an accident or self-inflicted.

The last time Rose saw her brother Sincere was on the afternoon of 23 October, 2018 - the day he was found.

It was around lunch time and he was out on the back porch talking to someone else, she told the court.

"I was going to go say hello but of course I was too busy in the kitchen. I will always regret not going and saying hi to him then because that would've been the last time I saw him alive," Rose said.

A few hours later, she received a phone call in the kitchen saying something had happened to Sincere.

Rose ran to her family's hostel where she found her aunt who did not know what had happened.

"By this time I'm just imagining the worst, that maybe he had cut himself really badly [while working] ... I didn't know what to expect, I was terrified," she said.

Rose then went to the paint shop, where her brother worked, to try find him.

"He was lying on the ground outside where he had been working and a group of men were performing CPR on him.

"I just stood there crying, I didn't know what to do."

Within a few minutes, Sincere began breathing again and Rose went towards him.

"It just looked like he was asleep and he looked really peaceful," she said, crying in court.

He was taken to Greymouth Hospital by helicopter.

Sincere Standtrue was the oldest of 11 siblings in his family. Pool photo: Joanne Naish/The Press
Sincere Standtrue was the oldest of 11 siblings in his family. Pool photo: Joanne Naish/The Press
That same night, Rose recalled a senior Gloriavale leader then approached her parents and said "he did not want WorkSafe involved and that [Gloriavale] could not afford to be given a fine by WorkSafe".

"There was a general understanding among the community to avoid WorkSafe involvement as they did not want to incur fines," she said.

There had been other instances of people being injured at Gloriavale, particularly in the meal plant and on the dairy farms, Rose said, but she was unsure if they had been reported to WorkSafe.

Their family was also not allowed to say Sincere was in heaven at his funeral two weeks later, Rose told the court.

The same community leader told them he was in hell, she said, and it made her angry.

"It felt like the whole funeral was just about people giving their opinions about whether Sincere was in heaven or hell instead of remembering Sincere."

Sincere was bullied before death

Earlier today, Rose told the court her brother was often isolated, shamed, bullied and beaten at the West Coast Christian community.

Multiple Gloriavale members and senior leaders picked on her brother, she said.

"As soon as [I was told Sincere was found unresponsive], I immediately thought that someone had done this to him as he was subject to bullying throughout his life," she said.

Rose said she remembered her brother being beaten at the age of 6, when he got into an argument with their father during a breakfast with other families in the hostel's kitchenette.

"One of the adult men got Sincere, dragged him out of the room and belted him. He had black and blue bruising," Rose said.

Beatings happened "quite a few times" when Sincere was in primary school, because Gloriavale's culture at the time was to welcome another adult disciplining their child, she said.

Parents often used belts and hairbrushes to smack children at that time and her brother was frequently mocked and bullied at school for being different, Rose told the court.

Sincere was picked on because "he walked funny - hunched over with his hands in his pockets - because he was short for his age, and because he was deaf. He got mocked for his hearing aids too," Rose said.

"While Sincere was in high school, he said that the boys would hurt him in the toilets. He didn't say what they did. I know that sometimes they would shut him in - hold the door shut so that he couldn't get out of the cubicle.

"In the classroom, they would walk past him and flick him on the ear."

Her brother felt embarrassed by his hearing aids, because only "old people" had hearing aids, and he would get wound up by the bullying, Rose said.

Once he grew so angry, he bit someone and was "put out of school", which meant he had to do his school work alone from home, for up to two months.

This happened three times over four years, she said.

Sincere struggled to build a connection with people and did not have many friends in the community, being found doing complex puzzles by himself instead, his sister said.

Rose left Gloriavale in 2021 and now wondered if her brother was autistic.

The bullying or "discipline" continued into his adulthood, she said.

"I do remember that he came back home from work and said his boss had beaten him with an Alkathene pipe," Rose said.

Sincere was also the oldest unmarried man in Gloriavale for the two years prior to his death, she said.

"[The leaders] just wouldn't treat him as an adult."

Unlike the rest of the boys his age, her brother was not allowed to get a licence at 16 and only had his learner's licence by the time he died at 20.

Inside the Gloriavale paint shop are shelves stacked with tinned paint, brushes, filing cabinets...
The Gloriavale paint shop where Sincere Standtrue worked for five years, from age 15. Photo: Supplied by Coroner's Court/Sergeant Litherland
The restriction meant he had to cycle for about half-an-hour at 3am to do his dairy milking duties a few times a week, instead of taking a 10-minute drive, Standtrue said.

He also had minimal responsibilities in the community's biannual concert the year he died, his bosses mocked him to his face and he was repeatedly turned down when he asked to sign the community's Declaration of Commitment, she said.

"All of Sincere's peers had their restricted or full licences and were married. He had none of what was normal," she said.

The court earlier heard Sincere was likely a victim of harmful sexual behaviour at Gloriavale, with his father admitting in a police interview that he was aware of an instance involving his son.

Rise said she was very close to her brother and she missed him a lot.

"Sincere was a gentle person. He was nice to everyone," she said.

The inquest continues.