STRANGLED ON AN AUCKLAND DOORSTEP, IGNORED BY POLICE
March 2011 issue
Valentina was a Russian bride, far from home. A child of the Cold War, born while wartime dictator Josef Stalin was still in his final years as Soviet leader, she’d lived through KGB and CIA spy scandals and the unspoken threat of the Siberian gulags for those who dared speak their minds in public. In Russia, it wasn’t unknown for people to just disappear. She’d walked the streets of Moscow on dark afternoons, tilting her fur collar up against the icy blades of the winter wind, and keeping her head down to avoid the watchful gaze of the Soviet secret police. So an Auckland doorstep, then, wasn’t the place she’d expected to be fighting for her life, but for Valentina Seale the point was academic as she felt her face smash against the doorframe, sending her glasses clattering to the concrete below. She gasped in a silent scream as her assailant’s fingers tightened around her throat and her diminutive body was thrust, kicking wildly, into the air. And then, as it all went black, she could feel nothing at all.
WORDS BY IAN WISHART
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SVETLANA KHVOROSTOVA/(photo posed by model)
There are tears in the eyes of the dark-haired woman as she greets me on another Auckland doorstep. It’s been nine years since that vicious doorstep beating, but for Valentina Seale the scars are real, and the stress is killing her, literally. She’s in the advanced stages of cancer and has weeks, perhaps months, to live. With a teenage daughter still at school Valentina, like any dying mother, has much on her mind, and so little time.
“I pray you can help me,” she says plaintively as she welcomes us into a tiny North Shore bedsit. Around the walls, pictures of her child and her child’s schoolwork, and boxes piled high with files and memorabilia. There’s an air of fatality in the room, or perhaps an air of impending fatality. Whatever it is, it’s as if Time has sucked up the flotsam and jetsam of an entire life like a tornado, then dumped the sum total of it in a living room.
After Valentina has gone, I wonder, will there be anything left beyond faded bits of paper and photographs? And then a face on the fridge door catches my eye. Of course there’ll be one thing left – a daughter who needs to know what happened to her mother and why their lives changed that June day in 2002.
The events leading up to it, as in all domestic disputes, were messy. Tina had split with her husband, Ian Seale, and because she had fled the house without money and some of her belongings, she went back to the matrimonial house that day to ask him to return her gold jewellery and give her some cash so she could return with her five year old daughter to Russia.
When she got there around 4:45pm, she initially had a conversation with Seale outside and came away empty handed. But the woman who’d driven Tina there told her to go back inside and try again. Tina entered the house and found Seale now resting in bed, although his house guests Darryl and Svetlana Williams were up and about. Svetlana Williams, like Tina, was another Russian bride. The Williams’ had been guests for several weeks – and in fact their presence was one of the reasons Tina had left her husband, as she later told the Police Complaints Authority.
“I left the house because I was afraid for the safety of my child and me with aggressive attitude of my husband’s friend Darryl.”
Witness statements collected from Tina’s neighbours confirm loud domestic incidents on April 28, 29 and May 6, 2002, after which Tina took her daughter and moved out.
So on June 2nd, after a brief discussion about the gold jewellery, Tina left Seale in his bedroom, walked up the corridor, into the kitchen past Darryl and the pregnant Svetlana, and moved toward the front door to leave.
“ ‘You shouldn’t have come’, she told me in Russian,” Tina remembers Svetlana saying. “I answered back, also in Russian, ‘Why on earth did you decide to have a baby with this mental man?’. It was not said in English, it was said in Russian.”
The translation from Russian to English loses a little colour in the telling. The phrase “mental man” is more accurately rendered as “man whose dogs are not all barking”.
It was an exchange between two Russian brides, in their mother tongue. A symbol perhaps of the tension and the tit-for-tat snappiness that exists between two women who don’t see eye to eye, and Tina’s dislike of what she saw as Darryl’s repeated aggression towards her. Valentina left her comment hanging in the air, and turned to leave, opening the door.
Tina only vaguely registered that Svetlana Williams had then repeated, in English, Tina’s slur about Darryl, and she didn’t realise until later that Svetlana had added a twist – telling her husband that Tina had suggested the unborn baby would be mentally damaged as well. Down the concrete steps and parked in the driveway Tina could see Ross Wylie and his wife – also named Svetlana – watching her. And that’s when it happened.
“It happened so fast, in the blink of an eye. Darryl grabbed me from behind. He’s a strong man. He seized both my hands and I was hanging and I couldn’t do anything. But I spit in his face. He started kicking me and put his hands around my neck. I don’t remember anything that happened after that, but Svetlana [Wylie] did, and she told me what happened.
“Mrs Wylie said to me – she didn’t know I’d spat on him – but she just saw him grab me and that my neck was in his hands and he was banging my head on the wall. Mrs Wyllie was screaming, ‘Police!, Police!’. Then Mr Wylie jumped out of the car and came to help. My glasses were smashed.”
Ross Wylie described it like this:
“Darryl’s assault included a combination of the following elements: grabbing Tina from behind, turning her around, putting his hands to her throat to strangle and shake her so she could not breathe and she felt she was losing consciousness and felt darkness in her eyes.
“Tina went to her knees and instinctively grabbed Darryl’s leg with her two hands to avoid being thrown out like a kitten [she weighed only 53kg and Darryl was a security guard]. In this attack she sustained bruising to her body and a sore neck. The force and nature of the attack by Darryl Williams dislodged her spectacles and some of the items she was carrying fell or were propelled outside the doorway.
“After I saw the door open and heard the words, ‘get out you f***in bitch’ spoken loudly and with aggression, I then saw physical violence. I immediately got out of the car and rushed…to render assistance. When I arrived Tina was down on the floor being held there by Darryl’s hand gripping Tina’s hair.”
Wylie told police he had to apply “considerable force” to get Darryl off the tiny Russian woman, who he led away to the safety of his car.
“I was sitting in the car, not crying, just out of my mind, dumbfounded, it was the first time in my life I had experienced something like this. They took me to my pastor’s place and the next morning they took me to lay a complaint with the police.”
The police officer at Glenfield who took the initial statement did not properly understand Valentina’s broken English, and waved away the Russian’s concerns that the written statement police wanted her to sign was not entirely accurate. “Don’t worry,” the female constable told her, “you can correct it in the next statement to the investigating officer.”
“Normally I would insist on getting it right,” says Valentina, “but she was heavily pregnant and really did not want to re-write the statement, so in the end I signed it.”
There are glaring errors obvious within moments of first opening the official police statement. For a start it records the date of the attack as June 3rd, even though it happened on June 2nd and the statement is recorded as being taken by police at “09:12” on June 3. June 3 hadn’t even begun in any real sense.
Police told Valentina an investigator would come and interview her “within three to five days”. But it didn’t happen. It was more than a week later that an officer turned up.
“I opened the door and it was a constable. This man he came, and he never looked me in the eye. He just sat at the table telling me there was no assault, it was just ‘restraining’, that the door had been closed so ‘your witnesses couldn’t see anything’, the house door was locked and that I wasn’t welcome in that house, and that because Darryl was a guest in the house he had a right not to let me in.
“While he was telling me all his conclusions I just couldn’t believe he was saying this without once asking me any questions. ‘Are you going to ask me any questions or talk to my witnesses?’ I asked him.
“He told me, ‘I have got already all the evidence from your husband, I have got all the evidence from Mr Williams and from his wife, and everything they say does not support what you say’.”
I couldn’t believe it. ‘My husband wasn’t even there! He didn’t see the assault because he was in bed!’. The constable did not want to know.
That investigating officer was Constable D C (Don) Henderson, under the supervision of a Sergeant Shane O’Connor. O’Connor, who is now one of the Senior Sergeants in charge of Auckland’s North Shore Policing unit, excelled himself with an A-grade whitewash of Tina’s formal complaint. A tape transcript in HERS magazine’s possession clearly proves beyond any reasonable doubt that Constable Henderson failed to interview Tina, and ignored incriminating evidence provided by the Wylies, before telling Tina he would not be taking her complaint any further and that there was “no assault”.
Here’s what the recording, made by Constable Henderson himself using a hidden dictaphone according to the Police file, at 13:28 on the afternoon of June 11 shows:
TINA: Welcome, sit down please, I was waiting for you for over one week.
CONSTABLE: Mrs Seale, as I explained to you on the phone, I was given this file yesterday at 1:10pm…since I got this file I have visited the address concerning this matter. I have spoken to Mr Darryl Williams. I have spoken to his wife Mrs Williams, and I’ve spoken to your husband Mr Ian Seale. They all gave in effect a similar account of what happened. The account of Mr Williams is corroborated by the other two.
Mr Williams has stated that he entered the house. Mr Seale has stated that he came outside the house and had a conversation about jewellery. Mr Seale stated that he went inside the house and you, a couple of minutes later, followed him into the house. An unsuccessful search was made for the jewellery (in the bedroom of the house) and at that point you decided to leave. When you got to the door of the address, that comment was made to Mrs Williams about the child.
[Mrs Seale tries to interrupt]
CONSTABLE: You will tell me your comments later. I’m telling you what they told me. You left the address at that point and once you were outside the address Mr Williams exchanged words telling you you were not to come back because you were not welcome. He bolted the door. A couple of minutes later Mr Williams said you returned to the door. The door was locked and as a tenant at that address he was in the position to lawfully exclude anyone from the address that he feels are intruders.
Now, it’s worth noting at this point that this was the matrimonial home of Ian and Valentina Seale, not Mr and Mrs Williams. Secondly, the claim here and in the transcript which follows suggesting Tina tried to force her way into the house is absolutely denied by the couple parked beside the front door who witnessed the entire event. However, for the sake of watching a “highly qualified” police officer (as Henderson would later describe himself) at work, let’s resume the transcript where we left off:
CONSTABLE: He returned to the door. The door was locked. You tried to get in. Initially he did not want you to come back into the address – the door was still bolted. The door was eventually opened and Darryl has indicated to the police that he did not want you to come in so he stood in front of you stopping you from coming in. It was witnessed by Darryl’s wife and by Mr Seale. They said independently separately of each other without knowledge of the others having been interviewed.
Again, let’s just review Constable Henderson’s claim for a moment in light of certain actual facts. Firstly, the police file in this magazine’s possession shows Henderson conducted a video interview with the accused, Darryl Williams, the previous evening, commencing at 18:17 hours and finishing 58 minutes later at 19:15 on the 10th of June. There is no record on the police file in our possession of any formal statement being taken from Darryl’s wife or Ian Seale until 13 June – two days after Constable Henderson had told Tina in the paragraph immediately above that the witnesses had all been interviewed. Clearly, it appears Constable Henderson was lying. At the point where he was telling Tina he had completed his investigation, he had not even collected formal statements from Svetlana Williams or Ian Seale.
Now, let’s return to the transcript again:
CONSTABLE: At no time has Darryl struck you, whatever. At no time were you restrained and stopped from entering the house. He did say about holding his hand out to stop you from coming forward. You have gone down to your knees at one point and that was when you had bitten Mr Williams on his leg which caused the blood injury. That is the point where a lot of loud screaming and he was trying to shake you off while you were biting his leg.
This is witnessed by Ian and Ian has stated that he and the other gentleman that accompanied you Mr Wylie, Mr Ross Wylie, separated you from each other. The fighting continued until both you and Mr Williams were separated.
It is my belief, because what I understand is that Mr Wylie was sitting in the car, that Mr Ian Seale and Mrs Williams were standing right behind Darryl – it is my belief that the assault did not happen as you say it has. That is my belief.
So my investigation shows that what ensued didn’t show that assault took place.
Now, the above portion in italics is a verbatim reprint of the official transcript of that interview, taken from the moment Constable Don Henderson walked in the door and sat down. He repeatedly claims in this 11 June transcript that Ian Seale and Mrs Williams have made statements, yet the police documents show statements were not taken until June 13, two days after this.
Constable Henderson has barely drawn breath. He’s outlined the “facts” as given to him by the offender and his wife and friend, and concluded at the end, “It is my belief that the assault did not happen”. Remember, Henderson had never met Tina before this moment, and certainly had never interviewed her. He had not taken full statements from Mrs Williams or Mr Seale at this point. But he had reached a conclusion on his investigation.
Sergeant O’Connor signed off on this as a good example of a “thorough investigation”.
Later in the tape transcript, as Tina challenges Henderson’s conclusion, the police officer implies he has interviewed Ross and Svetlana Wylie, the witnesses parked by the doorstep.
“Mr and Mrs Wylie had limited views of what happened, as I said. Mr Wylie was in the car. Mrs Wylie was in the car. She was in the car but she could not see the action…she could not see the door,” Constable Henderson is heard starting on tape.
Yet, the official police file in the possession of HERS magazine has a police file note from the evening of 11 June 2002 – some six hours after Henderson had already made the above comments to Tina – which records his first official contact with the Wylies was that evening. It was a shoot first, ask questions later kind of investigation. In other words, he hadn’t even spoken to them when he told Tina this earlier in the day at around 1:45pm on the 11th:
“It is my belief Mrs Wylie was not in the house with you. In this situation I’ve got three people saying one thing. I have two people supporting what you say, but who were not present in the house. Because of the conflict, I have to be impartial. I don’t take sides.
“I cannot justify or prove assault has taken place because of the conflicting evidence, and at this stage the Police cannot be of any further assistance to you.”
When Tina tumbles to the fact that Henderson hasn’t even spoken to the Wylies, she is flabbergasted.
“How could you make such a conclusion without even trying to see two other witnesses? Ring them now! They are waiting for your call, I’ll give you their telephone number. They are leaving Auckland on the 17th of June and you will not be able to speak to them. Can I give you their telephone number?”
“No,” snaps Henderson on the tape. “I don’t need to speak to them…I’m a highly qualified policeman! I believe I don’t need to see them at all.”
The Wylies, of course, would have told police that the front door was open and that they could see the whole thing unfolding, but Henderson didn’t want to know. Williams had told him the front door was closed, and Constable Henderson parroted that claim back to Tina:
“The door was closed. How could she see?…They were in the car and did not see anything.”
“But the door of the house was opened and he was trying to throw my body away!” complained Tina to the cop. Her logic fell on deaf ears.
“I must assure you Mrs Seale, I told you in this situation we are not pursuing it any further. The investigation is finished and it does not matter if the door was opened or closed. It will not go further, OK?”
Unfortunately for Constable Henderson, as he was leaving the address he recorded the time into his hidden tape recorder and added some editorial comment about Tina while he thought she was out of earshot:
“I am leaving the address. Any mongrel could have contrived this [complaint].”
Remember, he had not, at this stage, formally interviewed Mrs Williams or Mr Seale, nor had he interviewed eyewitnesses Ross Wylie and his wife Svetlana. Nor, as the transcript shows, had Constable Henderson interviewed the victim, Tina Seale. He had merely turned up to tell her of his decision to drop the investigation, and he did that before he asked her any questions at all.
Yet despite this damning tape recording, Sergeant O’Connor upheld the findings of his junior and stated in a letter to Tina dated 28 June 2002:
“The Police have undertaken a thorough investigation of this file and it is the decision of the Police that no prosecution will be made by the Police.”
O’Connor justified his decision on the basis that police found “contradictions between both the alleged offender and victim’s account of the events. From our investigation we cannot disprove the credibility of either party and their accounts.”
Yet O’Connor knew, when he wrote this, that Valentina Seale had never been formally interviewed by the investigating officer. In a legal and procedural sense, there was no “victim’s account of the events” for a contradiction to arise from.
O’Connor adds in his letter, “The allegation by you cannot be corroborated by the independent witnesses…[they] did not see Mr Williams strike you or threaten to strike you in any way.”
But O’Connor’s claim simply wasn’t true. Ross Wylie’s wife Svetlana, sitting in the front seat of their car outside the front door, had a birdseye view of the attack. In one document on the Police Complaints Authority file she is absolutely insistent she told the investigating constable, Don Henderson, that she saw Williams hitting Tina, hard:
“My husband and me were waiting since 3rd June 2002 to 15th June 2002 for the Police to contact us personally…but it didn’t happen. This doesn’t take into account the short evening call on the 11th June 2002 when I was repeating many times to him [Constable Henderson] in English, ‘He was beating Tina!’
“If he couldn’t understand the easiest phrase told him by me in English he should have met me with an interpreter, but not to fabricate things that never happened or find any excuses. The policeman made his investigation without honesty at all or professionalism,” declared Svetlana Wylie, who reiterated what she had personally witnessed that day:
“The man was beating Tina on the porch and the entrance door was open. When the man assaulted Tina from back when Tina was leaving the house, she was twisted so sharply to the concrete deck that she lost her glasses.”
In fact, Svetlana Wylie had provided the first written account of what happened, when she scribbled a witness statement out in Russian on ordinary writing paper. That document is dated 2nd June 2002 and timed “17:45”. This means the attack had to have happened sometime before 5:45pm, and given the time to get home and get to a writing pad it probably happened around five that evening. This undermines another plank in the fraudulent police investigation.
Henderson’s documents record the “incident” as taking place at 6pm or 6:30, which would have made it dark. Police claimed Tina’s witnesses would not have been able to see anything at night. But the sun was still in the sky at 5pm on June 2, 2002. We checked official records, which show sunset happened at 5:12pm that day, and it still would have been late twilight at 17:45 when Svetlana Wylie sat down at home to write out a witness statement.
In confirming his refusal to prosecute, North Shore policing boss Shane O’Connor tried to tell Tina that “the account of Mrs Wylie is significantly different to your alleged allegation. Mr Wylie’s account is also from a less advantageous viewpoint position a short distance away from the alleged scene, which coincidentally was in darkness.”
Readers can make up their own minds as to whether it would have been dark, and whether Svetlana Wylie’s evidence that “he was beating Tina” was really “significantly different” from Tina’s “alleged allegation”.
In truth, this was all just a cover-up. The tape recording taken just after lunch on 11 June clearly shows police had already made up their minds to let Darryl Williams off the assault charge without even bothering to conduct a proper investigation.
But the pattern of police butt-covering didn’t stop with the Glenfield station boss. Further up the food chain, the Acting Area Controller for the North Shore, Inspector Morris, rubber-stamped the investigation as “thorough”, and the then Professional Standards Manager for New Zealand Police, John Cryer also claimed his team’s “investigation” was squeaky clean.
Shockingly, Cryer’s successor as Professional Standards Manager, Inspector Shearer, also later endorsed the actions of Henderson and O’Connor, despite wrongly claiming the Wylies had been properly interviewed by Police prior to the non-prosecution decision.
Superintendent Roger Carson, the then District Commander for the North Shore, also added his weight to the cover-up, suggesting the inquiry had been “hindered by the departure of Mrs Wylie to Russia and her consequent unavailability as a witness in the matter”. Yet Carson appears to have missed the glaringly obvious point: the tape recording shows Constable Henderson had already closed the inquiry, and confirmed he would not be interviewing Mrs Wylie, a week before she left for Russia. She was still in the country when police announced their investigation was over.
On top of these ringing endorsements, the Police Complaints Authority also rubber-stamped the dodgy investigation, the PCA finding “there was no misconduct or neglect of duty on the part of Police”.
This is possibly the most serious aspect of the entire case, because it goes to the heart of whether police internal investigations for the PCA can be trusted: With two “Professional Standards Managers” and police top brass rubber-stamping as “thorough” an investigation where the victim and her witnesses were never properly interviewed, this case raises questions about the competence and integrity of Police. For the Police Complaints Authority to give such an investigation a clean bill of health raises questions about the competence and credibility of the Police Complaints Authority.
The time sequence and paper trail is blindingly clear. Henderson closed the investigation before he had spoken to the victim or her witnesses, and two days before he bothered to collect statements from Mrs Williams and Mr Seale in a butt-covering exercise – probably a precautionary measure because of Tina Seale’s complaint about him.
If this is how New Zealand Police treat violence against women, and how they close ranks to protect their own, little wonder the Minister of Police is getting impatient about the need for a massive culture change.
CAPTION FOR MEDICAL PHOTO MONTAGE:
DOCTOR’S REPORT: “This is to advise that Valentina is having ongoing pain in her neck, right shoulder and left thumb. These problems started after an alleged assault on 2 June 2002. She is having ongoing pain and loss of function in her right shoulder. An ultrasound scan…has revealed a full thickness tear in the supraspinatus tendon in that shoulder.
“She has pain with flexion at the IP joint in her thumb. An xray…shows a possible fracture at the base of the 1st metacarpal.” – Dr Michael Loten
POLICE CONCLUSION: “You injuries, your bruises on your body support that you have been struck in physical contact with someone. I cannot say they are caused by Mr Williams. I cannot say that they came from anybody else … There is the possibility that you did receive your injuries because of the conflict at the door while Mr Williams was trying to exclude you from the house. It’s what struggling gets.” – Constable Don Henderson, North Shore Police