Tension high over offender fliers

CALEB HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 28/05/2014

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Police and a principal have appealed for calm after fliers were distributed warning parents that a man convicted of possessing child sex abuse images is living near a school.

The man, Dean Cooper, was jailed for two years and four months in 2008 for possessing pictures and movies of children being sexually abused. He was also fined $5000 in 1999 for trading child sexual abuse images.

In a post on their Facebook page last week, Wairarapa police said they were aware of fliers and emails about a Masterton resident, but they urged people to treat the information "carefully" and not take any action themselves.

"This information has been posted for malicious reasons and therefore needs to be treated with caution."

Dozens of comments queried why Cooper was allowed to live near Masterton Primary School and asked for more protection from people with convictions involving child abuse.

Sergeant Mike Sutton said the Facebook post came after someone decided to target Cooper about a separate issue, unrelated to his convictions, and to stir up "hatred" against him. He regretted that the post, designed to "take the heat out of the situation", had actually fuelled it.

He said Cooper had been free of release conditions for "some time" and could live where he liked, but police were monitoring him and taking steps to protect the community.

"There's a lot we do behind the scenes that people don't see. We have to balance wider public safety against the rights of an individual."

After the fliers and emails were circulated, police spoke to Cooper as well as to concerned people who contacted them, along with Masterton Primary School and the area's Neighbourhood Watch group.

Allegations made about Cooper since had been investigated and found to be baseless, he said.

Police would continue to monitor the situation, and anyone with concerns should contact them rather than targeting individuals on social media or through other channels.

Masterton Primary School principal Sue Walters said she had no concerns about the man, who had lived in the area for four years without any problems.

"There's a lynch mob mentality that can actually exacerbate the situation."

She was happy with the police response and warned against a misguided "vigilante" attitude towards Cooper, who, she believed, had never been charged or convicted of actually abusing a child.

But a father of six who lived near Cooper until last year said it was a "joke" that someone with Cooper's criminal history was allowed to live so close to a school.

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"I would die to protect my children. And if this guy's on the loose [and] I find him anywhere near my kids I will not hesitate on what I would do," Johnny Meeuws said.

Cooper could not be contacted for comment.

- The Dominion Post

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