Judge disagrees conman too fat for jail

Last updated 05:00 28/06/2009
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Corrections says it can cope with Max Heslehurst's weight.

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A morbidly obese fraudster who argues he needs specialised medical treatment that can't be provided in prison has lost his bid to be freed while he awaits further court action.

Max Heslehurst, who has been reported as weighing nearly 200kg, was earlier this year found guilty on 41 counts of fraud and sentenced to three years and nine months in prison a term partly reduced because of his obesity-related health problems.

But Heslehurst widely known as Mad Max or Fat Max has appealed the convictions, saying a note outlining one or more of his previous convictions was mistakenly handed to the jury. He applied for permission to await the appeal's outcome at home.

His lawyer, Mike Meyrick, told the Appeal Court that bail should be granted not only because the appeal case was strong, but because of Heslehurst's ill-health and his difficulties obtaining medical treatment in confinement.

Heslehurst had been found guilty by a South Auckland jury of fleecing at least 30 victims across the North Island of $344,000.

It was reported at the time of his sentencing in May that his obesity meant other prisoners had to help with his personal hygiene when he used the toilet.

Meyrick told the Sunday Star-Times he would not appeal Heslehurst's failed bail application to the Supreme Court, but his client's condition meant he was "degraded" in the prison setting. He did not believe the Corrections Department was equipped to care for prisoners like Heslehurst who effectively had a disability.

Heslehurst reportedly duped his victims including a solo mother, a dentist, a racedog trainer and a group of Hamilton bankers by offering to sell them cars or televisions for bargain prices.

He told one of his victims he could get seven wide-screen televisions cheaply because they had belonged to failed finance company Bridgecorp and were to be auctioned the next day. But there were no televisions or cars.

In opposing bail, counsel for the Crown said health workers were monitoring Heslehurst's condition daily. A treatment plan was in place which "covers all aspects of his healthcare needs and he has an appointment scheduled with a cardiovascular specialist at Auckland Hospital shortly". There was also an emergency care plan to transport him to hospital if necessary.

In her judgement, Justice Ellen France did not accept that Auckland Central Remand Prison could not cope with Heslehurst's health problems which include gout, diabetes and difficulty walking.

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She added that evidence from Corrections Department health bosses suggested Heslehurst's health needs were not enough to "tip the scales" in favour of granting bail.

However, she urged that the appeal be dealt with as quickly as possible.

Meyrick would not talk about the exact grounds of the appeal as the papers were yet to be filed. But he said the integrity of the jury that convicted his client may have been breached, after a note outlining one or more of Heslehurst's previous convictions was mistakenly circulated. There were also issues with how that breach was dealt with, he said.

The Crown's view was that trial judge Ajit Singh followed an appropriate process in dealing with the mistake and he had issued minutes on this process. Singh dismissed one juror and declined an application for a mistrial.

Spokesperson for Fight the Obesity Epidemic, Dr Robyn Toomath, said institutions such as Corrections needed to take steps to ensure they could effectively care for obesity sufferers, as it was a growing problem. The stigma of obesity was something that was likely to be magnified in prison.

- By LEIGH VAN DER STOEP, Sunday Star-Times

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