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School failed family says father

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 15/06/2016
Stephen Dudley died last year after being punched following a rugby training session. © Getty Images Stephen Dudley died last year after being punched following a rugby training session.

Stephen Dudley's parents have lashed out at the boy's school saying it "blanked them" and deliberately tried to distance itself from his death after a school-yard beating.

Stephen, 15, died in hospital after being punched in the neck and stomach by two brothers, aged 15 and 17 at the time, during an argument following school rugby training in Auckland in June 2013.

The teens admitted to the assault but were both discharged without conviction and manslaughter charges were dropped after Stephen was found to have an undiagnosed heart condition.

At a coroner's inquest into the cause of the death on Wednesday, Stephen's father gave a heated criticism of the school, which cannot be named, saying it had failed to talk to properly talk to their family.

"We lost our son, while he was in your care, and I think you guys have to put a bit more bloody effort into it," he told a representative in court.

"Do you see the impact that has on our lives? Under your care. You didn't come up to standards as far as we are concerned."

He said the school had deliberately tried to distance itself from the problem, only doing enough to co-operate with police and had not reached out to the family.

"That was gutting. Especially knowing how much our son loved your school," he said.

Stephen's mother, Mona, said the school had "blanked them" and not sent a condolence letter, but admitted someone could have come with a koha without her noticing.

Stephen was a gentle, old soul with a passion for rugby who had even helped out at a nearby Buddhist monastery, she said.

Ms Dudley rejected his death had been caused by a medical event, saying statements the family had made about his health - including headaches and sleeping problems - had been misinterpreted.

The school's principal told the inquest he was "deeply distressed" to hear the family felt let down and he thought the relationship had been positive.

"If we got that wrong I'm really, really sorry," he said.

He said schoolyard fights were not common, rejecting earlier claims made by Mr Dudley that there was a "fighting culture" and "racial tension" at the school.

Earlier the old brother involved in the attack, now 20, wept as he read an affidavit he had written.

He said he jumped into the argument to protect his brother who was in a scuffle with Stephen, and was ashamed for walking away after Stephen was knocked to the ground, saying he had been more concerned with getting in trouble than the teen's welfare.

"I was a coward. I still feel ashamed when I think about it," he said.

"I feel like Stephen is dead because of me."

On Tuesday, the younger brother, 18, wept as he told of his remorse, calling Stephen a friend and saying he had been peer pressured into the fight to avoid looking "soft".

Earlier in the week, several of Stephen's teammates described how he fell to the ground, trying to protect himself and gasping for breath after being struck. Both brothers have permanent name suppression.

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