From under their noses

Phillip John Smith
Phillip John Smith

Two Government departments are urgently investigating how a convicted murderer and paedophile managed to get a passport while in jail, and flee the country on temporary release.

Failures to check on Phillip John Smith - who once kept in his prison cell a "hit list" of the names of his victims' families - meant it took Corrections three days to become aware he had fled to Chile.

The 40-year-old flew out of Auckland on Thursday - the same day he was temporarily released from Springhill prison in Waikato to stay with a sponsor.

On Saturday, after hearing nothing from his sponsors, Corrections called and discovered he had not been under supervision since lunchtime on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Department of Internal Affairs is investigating the likelihood that Smith, described as devious and manipulative, had outside help to gain his passport, in his birth name of Phillip John Traynor.

He was jailed under the name Smith, after molesting a boy in Wairarapa in 1995. Police moved the family, but he tracked them to Wellington, hid in their laundry and attacked the children as they slept. When their father intervened, Smith fatally stabbed him.

The sister of the murdered man told TV3 last night that she could not believe Smith had been freed without a tracking device. Her family had repeatedly asked Corrections and the Parole Board to fit him with one.

"I told them he was going to pull the wool over their eyes and manipulate them, and that's exactly what he's done," she said.

"He has proved the whole system is nothing but a bad, bad joke."

The family said the boy originally molested by Smith, who is now 31 and living overseas - though not in South America - had taken news of the escape badly.

Police have notified Chilean authorities of Smith's criminal history and aliases, and said they would "pursue all available avenues" to return him to face further charges. New Zealand has no extradition treaty with Chile.

When police were asked whether the name Traynor would raise flags among other agencies, such as Customs and Immigration, Assistant Police Commissioner Malcolm Burgess said that it would not.

"It wasn't the identity he was charged under. There was no reason for it to raise flags.

"Yes, there's potential for better information sharing."

A former police officer who dealt with Smith and his victims labelled the affair a disaster.

"It's bloody disappointing, and that's probably the most civil thing I could say about it. It seems incredible," said Pete Thompson, who left Wellington police in 1998.

"They would all be well aware of what he is capable of. I would have thought he would have been put right up to the top of the list to probably never get out."

He recalled Smith as a "narcissist" and meticulous planner: "He is quite an intelligent person - of that there is no doubt.

"He clearly thought he was smarter than everyone. He was smarter than a lot of people - that's just his personality.

"That highlights just how dangerous he is. I've no doubt that, whatever he is doing at the moment . . . he has been planning for the past 15 years."

A cousin of Smith's, who asked not to be named, said: "I hope they find the bastard . . . devious prick, he's obviously thought about that for a long time. All the time he was in jail, probably."

Corrections said there were check-in processes in place for temporary releases, of which Smith had completed nine, but admitted they were totally reliant on the sponsors for ensuring where offenders went.

Police had spoken to a female relative who had collected Smith from prison, Burgess said.

"The role of the sponsors, and I think there were two in this case, will be part of the investigation and we'll determine if charges are appropriate."

Police Minister Michael Woodhouse said a multi-agency review would take place immediately into the "number of failings", but finding Smith was the first priority.

The Dominion Post