Prison officer humiliated by rectal search

Last updated 12:58 07/08/2008

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A woman prison officer's humiliation - being body cavity searched after being set up by malicious inmates - has led to her being granted name suppression after she admitted cannabis charges.

When she was meant to have a defended hearing before a judge in Christchurch District Court today, the 63-year-old woman pleaded guilty to charges of possession of cannabis and two pipes for smoking it.

She has had suppression of her name and occupation since she first appeared in court 14 months ago, but Judge Philip Moran decided today to allow her occupation to be published.

Crown prosecutor Kathy Bell said police searched her Christchurch home on June 4, 2007, and found a tin in the bedroom, hidden in a chest of drawers. It contained a snaplock plastic bag with 16.1g of cannabis head.

Tissue papers used to make cannabis cigarettes were also found, and two pipes, which had been recently used.

The woman told police she had smoked cannabis for relaxation for years. She said she did not think it was unlawful to smoke it in her own home.

Defence counsel Jonathan Eaton said the case showed the risks of police and judges relying on information from inmates when issuing search warrants.

The woman was detained when she arrived at work, and remained with the police for 13-1/2 hours.

She was subjected to a normal search, then invited to allow a body cavity search by a doctor. When the doctor thought he could feel something in the rectal search, an MRI scan was done. All proved negative.

There had been a suspicion she was bringing drugs into jail, relying on information from inmates.

"She ends up with a little bit of cannabis found in her home - nothing to do with what she had to go through,'' Eaton said.

The information that triggered the search warrant had obviously been wrong.

"She's been humiliated, violated, subjected to the most intrusive procedures available to the law in New Zealand.''

The woman has been suspended on full pay since her arrest, and she had now offered to resign. This may, or may not be accepted, but it may also involve the loss of entitlements - far more than the usual fine for cannabis offences.

Judge Moran said it was surprising that she did not know she could not smoke cannabis at home.

He said it was outrageous that she had been set up by malicious inmates.

"The consequences of a conviction would outweigh your culpability for smoking a bit of dak at home,'' he said, discharging her without conviction.

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Because of the humiliation she had suffered, he granted name suppression but decided to allow publication of her job as a woman prison officer.

"You have been humiliated enough," he said.

-NZPA

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