Obese conman was too sick for prison - family

23:42, Jul 04 2013
 Max Heslehurst
Weak heart: Convicted fraudster Max Heslehurst died in Waikato Hospital of heart failure following a short stay at Waikeria Prison.

A morbidly obese conman who died following a brief stint in prison should never have been shifted from his hospital bed, his grieving family says.

Relatives of Maxwell John Heslehurst gathered at Hamilton District Court yesterday as Coroner Peter Ryan held an inquest into the 57-year-old's death in August last year.

Senior Constable Garry Paton told the court Heslehurst was admitted to Waikato Hospital with heart complaints on July 17 and discharged on August 2.

Heslehurst was immediately arrested by police and taken to Waikeria Prison's at-risk unit before being moved to its south-west unit.

Waikato District Health Board consultant cardiologist Dr Clyde Wade approved Heslehurst's discharge, saying he was satisfied Heslehurst's heart condition had stabilised.

He said Heslehurst had suffered serious heart problems for the past 11 years and he had met him about 30 times since 2007.


Dr Wade said that shortly before approving Heslehurst's discharge, he was told police had arrived to take Heslehurst into custody.

Dr Wade said his primary concern was whether Heslehurst would receive proper care after his discharge.

He was confident Heslehurst's health needs could be met at Waikeria Prison.

Under cross examination from lawyer Mike Meyrick, acting for Heslehurst's family, Dr Wade acknowledged Heslehurst was an unwell man and was not expected to live more than 12 months.

Dr Wade was surprised by Heslehurst's death less than a week after being discharged, but said it was within the realms of probability.

"Max crashed and burned within five days, that was a surprise," Dr Wade said.

"In retrospect I wouldn't have discharged him if I knew he would die in five days."

Also giving evidence was Waikeria Prison nurse Sheena Piggott, who was called to Heslehurst's cell on August 5 after staff found him lying unresponsive in a foetal position.

Ms Piggott called an ambulance and gave Heslehurst oxygen as well as an injection of Narcan after suspecting Heslehurst wasn't metabolising his morphine medication properly.

Dr Wade said Ms Piggott's assessment was "smart".

"I thought what that nurse did was bloody smart, excuse my French."

Heslehurst was transported to Waikato Hospital where his condition continued to deteriorate. He died of congestive heart failure three days later.

Mr Paton said a police investigation concluded there was no criminal circumstances to Heslehurst's death.

Mr Ryan reserved his finding, saying he would release his written findings at a later date.

Speaking outside court, Heslehurst's daughter, Ashley Tolchard, said her last conversation with her father was when he rang her to say police had arrived at hospital to arrest him.

"He was panicking because he knew he would die in prison," she said.

"No-one deserves to die like that."

Heslehurst's ex-wife, who did not want to give her name, said her former husband was no angel - a reference to Heslehurst's more than 150 convictions for dishonesty in New Zealand and Australia.

Debate over Heslehurst's obesity-related health problems often featured prominently in court proceedings against him.

In 1999, Heslehurst fought an extradition order to New Zealand, claiming he was too fat to fly.

His ex-wife said Heslehurst could be a "Jekyll and Hyde" character but he did have a good side.

"He would help anyone in need and helped a lot of prisoners to read while he was in prison.

"There were two sides to him, we know that, but he cared about his family."

Waikato Times