Sgt Don Wilkinson's killers jailed

BY CLIO FRANCIS
Last updated 11:22 30/08/2010
Clegg and Skinner

IN COURT: Iain Lindsay Clegg, left, and John Ward Skinner, during their sentencing at the High Court in Auckland.

Beverley Lawrie
HAMISH COLEMAN-ROSS
MOTHER'S LOSS: Beverley Lawrie, 69, said the "bottom fell out of my life" the day her son was killed.
Don Wilkinson
VICTIM: Undercover police officer Don Wilkinson.

Beverley Lawrie on sentencing

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A suspected P manufacturer who gunned down an undercover police officer after a covert operation went wrong will serve at least 15 years in jail.

This morning, during an emotional victim impact statement, the mother of the slain officer, Sergeant Don Wilkinson, called her son's killers "cowards" who she could never forgive.

"Donny's loss has devastated me. My only child is dead and all I have left is memories."

In June, a jury found John Ward Skinner, 37, guilty of murdering Mr Wilkinson on September 11, 2008.

Mr Wilkinson, 46, was shot three times after he tried to install a tracking device on a car outside a suspected P lab in Hain Ave, Mangere, South Auckland. His partner, identified only as Officer M, was shot four times but survived.

Skinner's co-accused, Iain Lindsay Clegg, 33, was found not guilty of Mr Wilkinson's murder but guilty of his manslaughter. Skinner was also found guilty on a count of attempted murder of a second officer, whose name is suppressed. Clegg was found not guilty on the same charge. Skinner was also found guilty of assault with a firearm.

Today, at the High Court at Auckland, Justice Geoffrey Venning sentenced Skinner to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 15 years. He was sentenced to 10 years for the attempted murder charge and one year for assault with a firearm. These will be served concurrently.

Clegg was sentenced to eight years imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of four years for the manslaughter of Mr Wilkinson.

Justice Venning said he rejected Skinner's claim he had only shot Mr Wilkinson in self-defence.

He said the belief that Skinner and Clegg held that the two officers were "intruders" did not mitigate their actions.

"They posed no further threat to you, your family or your property at that stage. Instead you acted deliberately to impose your own justice on these men, you hunted them down and attacked them in order to do so."

"No sentence the court can impose can ever address the loss suffered by the victims, particularly Sergeant Wilkinson's family."

During the trial the court heard police had begun investigating Skinner, a suspected methamphetamine manufacturer, in May, 2008.

Police had applied to a district court judge for a tracking device to be placed secretly on Skinner's car. On the night of the shooting police held a briefing at 12.30am to discuss the night's task.

One of the officers involved in the operation reported that he had walked past Skinner's house twice, the lights were on and an unknown car was parked outside.

But the decision was made for the operation to go ahead and two Technical Support Unit (TSU) officers, Mr Wilkinson and Officer M, moved on to the property.

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Soon afterwards, the two officers were "sprung" after the occupants at the house allegedly saw them on security cameras and chased them more than 100 metres down the street.

The court heard that once Clegg and Skinner caught up with officers, Officer M was punched in the face by Clegg with such force his retina was detached and his nose broken.

It was then Skinner, armed with a high-powered air rifle, shot Officer M four times before turning to shoot Mr Wilkinson three times.

A MOTHER'S GRIEF

In a victim impact statement delivered to the court this morning, Mr Wilkinson's mother, Beverley Lawrie, 69, said the "bottom fell out of my life" the day her son was killed.

Her son, "Donny", had spent his life working in "some incredibly dangerous situations", she told the court.

"The irony of the whole thing is he came back to New Zealand because he believed it would be a safer place to work.

"Of all the people he worked for and all the places he worked, the last place I expected him to be killed was in New Zealand.

"I'm incredibly proud of my son and everything he achieved in his life...but I also know he had the potential to do so much more."

Mrs Lawrie recalled the day she found out her son had been murdered.

"When I heard it on the news, call it mothers intuition, I just knew that it was Donny who had died.

"It is very difficult to come to terms with the fact that Skinner made the choice to kill my son.

"They didn't have to chase Donny and his colleague down, they didn't have to shoot them.

"They showed no respect for human life. Donny was shot three times and the other officer four, leaving my son dead and his colleague wounded.

"Both men are cowards, personally I will never forgive them for what happened."

THE DEFENCE CASE

Skinner's lawyer, Marie Dyhrberg, said during the trial that her client wished he could turn back the clock to a time before the shooting.

Skinner had believed that Mr Wilkinson and Officer M were burglars when he saw them on CCTV in his driveway that night, Ms Dyherberg told the court.

"It's not disputed that John Skinner believed throughout that Sergeant Wilkinson and [Officer M] were intruders or burglars.

"They were dressed like them, they acted like them, they were carrying what appeared to be their tool bags.

"The actions of these two men as they ran off after being challenged were perfectly consistent with the notion that these were bad guys up to no good.

"John Skinner freaked out, he panicked. So they made the fateful decision to run after them," Ms Dyhrberg said.

Moments later Skinner and Clegg came across the two officers down a dark driveway down the street.

Skinner had again asked for an explanation of what they were doing, Ms Dyhrberg said.

"Now at that point, John Skinner saw the other burglar, intruder - as he believed them to be - who was standing back a bit behind [Officer M], he saw him make a reaching movement...with his hand towards his waist area.

"And Mr Skinner at that precise moment thought that the burglar was reaching for a gun and that, within moments, split seconds, Mr Skinner... would be shot.

"He had one thought only, he's going for a gun.

"And it's in this background that John Skinner reacted and ended up with the two officers being shot. He had no idea that that airgun could do the damage that it did.

"He was in total shock when, at the police station, he learnt the extent of the injury and not only that, that somebody had actually been killed.

"At the time, the critical time, he was full of fear, adrenaline, acting purely on instinct and reaction and it was just seconds."

POLICE-ISSUE BODY ARMOUR SLAMMED

During the trial, a senior police officer involved in the case heavily criticised police-issue body armour, labelling it "unsafe, unpractical and bulky".

The officer, who has permanent name suppression and can only be referred to as Officer W, wiped away tears as he told the court he had worked with Mr Wilkinson for over nine years.

Officer W said Mr Wilkinson had not been wearing any stab resistant body armour on the night of the covert operation.

Mr Wilkinson's colleague, Officer M, who survived the shooting, had been wearing a vest, Officer W told the court.

"I find these pieces of equipment virtually impossible to use in the environment we work in.

"There is different sizes but we don't have an option of different types of body armour we can wear."

Officer W then held up the body armour in the dock and told the court:

"There is obviously far better options than this.

"It's very hot, it's very bulky and if you're trying to do covert duties it's very detectable.

"It's an issue for the police department and it's a shame to bring it out in this arena but it's something that has to be addressed.

"It's an officer safety issue."

Police National Headquarters declined to comment on the issue until after the 20-day-appeal period in the case.

PAST CONVICTIONS

After the guilty verdicts, it was revealed Clegg had past criminal convictions related to methamphetamine.

He has 80 previous convictions dating back to 1991.

Clegg was sentenced to four years and six months for manufacturing methamphetamine in 2003. He had finished parole less than a year before the shooting.

At a parole hearing in 2005, Judge J Rota said: "He [Clegg] was at a loss to explain why a person with such intellectual capability, personal attributes and opportunities throughout his life would take the criminal offending road he has."

He was freed in July 2006 on parole lasting until December 18, 2007, because of his "history and the seriousness of his offending".

- Stuff

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