Whanganui council loses Wilson challenge

Last updated 16:48 27/08/2012
Beast of Blenheim
CRAIG SIMCOX/Fairfax NZ
CONVOY: The prison van carrying Stewart Murray Wilson arrives at Whanganui Prison.

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Wanganui District Council has lost its challenge to the release of serial sex offender Stewart Murray Wilson.

Wilson, 65, a serial sex offender known as the Beast of Blenheim, was convicted on 22 sex charges against women and children between 1971 and 1994.

He has already been moved to Wanganui Prison in readiness for his release in Whanganui.

In the High Court at Wellington today Corrections defended the restrictions placed on Wilson for his release from jail.

Wilson had to be released by Saturday September 1 after serving as much as his 21-year prison sentence as he could be made to. This would probably happen on Wednesday.

He is on special conditions the Parole Board has set that are intended to last for three years. As well, Corrections has written what it is calling a reintegration programme for him.

But Justice Ron Young said he could not see how the programme had anything designed to reintegrate Wilson.

The judge has said that though the "reintegration programme" that Corrections Department wants to impose on top of the release conditionsthat the Parole Board set, was not a reintegration plan at all.

There may be an urgent Parole Board hearing for the board to say whether the reintegration plan was what it had in mind when it told Wilson he had to engage in such a programme.

While the board had said Wilson was to be electronically monitored by GPS, the reintegration programme said he had to be accompanied by two "minders" where-ever he went.

Unless Corrections could give an undertaking that two people would be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, then it was a restriction, not a reintegration measure, Young said.

The reintegration programme also included other conditions on Wilson's conduct.

Whanganui Mayor Annette Main said she was disappointed with the result.

"We have to make sure that our community is able to have the information [from Corrections] they weren't able to get before ... that's why we took this case.

"We have to begin again to actually start making sure that these conditions they've put in place actually work.
She admitted there was little else to do to stop Wilson's move to Whanganui.

"We know that every community in New Zealand would have done the same ... nobody wants to see this man in their backyard.

"We've given it our best shot and I think we've sent a pretty clear message that these things need to be handled in different ways.

"I do hope that we don't have to see these kind of circumstances again."

Outside court Wilson's lawyer Andrew McKenzie said he would consider appealing against the decision.

"I think he [Wilson] will be disappointed.

"Appealing is an option, but obviously that will depend on the reasons [in the judges decision]."

When asked whether Wilson should fear for his life when released at Whanganui Prison Mr McKenzie said: "I think there's some safety issues, but having said that I don't know of too many cases of prisons being fire bombed in New Zealand."

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The Parole Board has welcomed the decision.

Spokeswoman Sonja De Friez said the Parole Board would discuss Justice Young's decision tomorrow.

"The Board welcomes the decision and will, as always, abide by the Courts instructions.

"The development of a reintegration plan is for the Department of Corrections and Mr Wilson to resolve.  The Court has directed that an agreed reintegration plan is to be submitted to the Parole Board.  

"A panel of the Board is scheduled to convene tomorrow to consider the proposal."

CORRECTIONS HAS 'PLAN B'

The Corrections Department has a "Plan B" in case the house intended for Wilson is not ready by the time he is released this week.

With Wednesday's expected release looming and no resource consent to allow a house for Wilson to be shifted into the grounds, Corrections has moved a fence around a self-care unit at Whanganui Prison making the unit accessible to the general prison grounds.

It was proposed a house would be shifted to Whanganui Prison for him that would be on prison land but "outside the wire".

The house has not been moved yet and Corrections lawyer Austin Powell said a Plan B was in place.

Self-care units near the prison perimeter were intended for prisoners close to the end of their sentence.

The fence around one of the units had been moved so it was separated from the other units for privacy and would allow him to come and go so long as he was in line with other restrictions placed on him.

WILSON WANTS INTERNET ACCESS AND A CAR

Wilson wants internet access, to be able to leave Whanganui District and to drive a car but not carry passengers, the court heard.

Powell responded that the responsibility for Wilson's lack of choices rested squarely with himself.

The court heard this afternoon that when Wilson would not co-operate, Corrections set about making a programme for his release itself.

He was not trusted and Corrections was concerned that if the opportunity arose, Wilson would reoffend.

Notwithstanding the years he had been in jail Wilson had developed neither insight nor remorse, Powell said.

He rejected Wanganui District Council's claim that Corrections did not have community safety at the forefront of its considerations when plans were made for Wilson's release.

The far north and south were too remote and too difficult to track him in if he absconded, metropolitan areas were ruled out because of the number of potential victims and it would be more difficult to monitor him in crowds.

Corrections thought the choices came down to accommodation on prison grounds at New Plymouth, Hawke's Bay or Whanganui.

New Plymouth prison was closing and Hawke's Bay had close neighbours and no easily accessible facilities for shifting a building onto the site for Wilson.

Whanganui Prison was in a more rural area and power and water were still available from previous buildings on the site.

Justice Young said he saw good reasons for some of the 17 release conditions to which Wilson was objecting.

With Wilson's history of offending involving hitch-hikers he had picked up and meeting vulnerable women via lonely-hearts newspaper advertisements, some of the restrictions seemed reasonable, the judge said.

WE'D KEEP BEAST IN PRISON IF WE COULD: KEY

Prime Minister John Key said today if the Government could keep Wilson in prison it would.

The Government was changing the law so in extreme cases, high-risk dangerous offenders could be kept in prison indefinitely, he said.

"We don't have that legislation yet, so he's got to come out."

It was difficult to make justice legislation retrospective so it applied to Wilson, as the Government discovered when it tried to make search and surveillance laws retrospective.

Key said he understood "completely" how anxious the people of Whanganui were.

"He will have the most stringent bail conditions I've seen of anyone released from prison," he told TVNZ's Breakfast programme.

"He's effectively living on prison grounds with a GPS on him. If he breaks any condition, he will be back in prison. He's going to have people watching him whatever he does.

"Is he going to be in much different condition to being on one side of the wire to the other? Arguably not. That's why his lawyer is in court."

Wilson had not shown much remorse and so the Government was taking his release very seriously, Key said.

WHAT IS A SELF CARE UNIT?

The Corrections Department website says the units are designed to teach prisoners independent living skills. Individuals are placed in a flatting type situation with three of their peers. They have to take control of their day-to-day living needs, including housekeeping, cooking, budgeting and purchasing of food and household requirements.

To be admitted to a Self Care Unit, prisoners must have a minimum security classification, be drug free, have had no serious misconducts in the preceding six months and be within approximately one year of their release date.

Prisoners must sign a contract agreeing to comply with self-care unit conditions. In addition they must remain drug free, behave in a responsible and cooperative manner, complete any structured programme required by their sentence plan and work actively towards the community reintegration objectives in that plan.

- The Dominion Post

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