Victims still hurting 44 years after sex abuse

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 28/05/2012

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Four victims of New Zealand's longest serving prisoner, Alfred Thomas Vincent, 74, break their silence today after almost 44 years to share their views on whether the child sex abuser should ever be freed.

We report on the day Vincent faces a probation board hearing.

Guilt, disgust, horror, shame.

A devastating legacy from sexual abuse 44 years ago lives on in four Canterbury men's lives.

Alfred Thomas Vincent preyed on their youthful naivety and fears, changing the direction of their lives forever.

But their brave testimony led to the then-30-year-old Kaiapoi man being sentenced to preventive detention in September 1968 on seven charges of indecently assaulting five boys aged 12 to 14 years.

Four of Vincent's victims are now in their late 50s while the fifth, a brother of one of the men, died years ago from cancer.

The men, who have automatic name suppression, were surprised when contacted by The Press last week, but agreed to talk about their abuser, New Zealand's longest-serving prisoner.

Vincent was a family friend of the two brothers and would visit their home often, staying the night sometimes, while the other boys were their school friends.

Initially, he seemed a nice guy, friendly, chatty and kind but "a bit backwards".

"He had the gift of the gab," says one.

But he wormed his way into their lives, luring them with offers to let the boys drive his Austin car and taking them to Christchurch's Ruapuna Speedway to watch car racing.

"What boy doesn't want to drive a car to school when they're only 13?" says one.

His car and the raceway became prime spots for the indecent assaults.

One recalls Vincent letting him drive his car, but telling him to sit between his legs "just in case I have to grab the wheel".

Another time, Vincent visited the boy's home to get his mother's permission to take him to the speedway but when they arrived, the racetrack was in darkness with no other cars present.

"He knew exactly what he planned." The sexual attack that ensued was terrifying, he says.

"I felt like a stone wall. I just froze. It was very, very, very degrading. I've blocked a lot of stuff out."

Abuse also happened at the brothers' home, where Vincent would sneak into their beds at night.

"You shuffle over against the wall but there's only so far you can go. I'd imagine there was a door in the wall that I could escape through," says one. "I still get flashbacks. It was sickening."

Three of the then-teens told no-one, fearing the consequences and unsure what was happening.

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"You can't tell your parents. You're the bad boy," says one.

"The reason you didn't talk about it is you feel ashamed, you feel dirty. There was no-one to blame. I was so naive to let something happen like that.

"Things happen when you're a kid and you don't understand it. There's a lot more about sex talked about now," says another.

Some suffered abuse over a long period, up to a year.

But two finally told on Vincent.

One says "all hell broke loose" after he told his parents that Vincent tried to indecently assault him for the first time at the raceway.

Another told his teacher several months after Vincent twice sexually abused him.

Soon after, police knocked on all the boys' doors to get their statements.

"It all came out. My parents were both there. They were pretty distraught," says one.

This dark part of their lives has been a closely guarded secret and they shed many tears as they recount its impacts.

Several say they have never spoken to anyone about the abuse since 1968 because they feel so ashamed. The others have told very few.

"There's only two people in my life who know what happened – my wife and my mother. I'd like to keep it that way," says another.

Three say their lives were severely impacted by Vincent's predation, those who suffered the most prolonged attacks.

One became an alcoholic and has spent time in jail, mainly for drinking offences.

"I had no respect for the law." During one stint in jail, he spotted Vincent and anger surged through him.

"I just wanted to kill him." But he didn't approach him or speak to him.

Another spent 25 years addicted to heavy drugs, trying to forget his past.

He hit rock bottom about six years ago and planned to kill himself, but instead sought psychiatric help.

A third man says he had done well at school up until the sex abuse began "but after that happened, school went out the window".

To this day, he struggles to read and write.

"All I can basically say is it's changed the way I feel, it's changed the way I look at my grandchildren. I don't have a lot of close friends – I'd rather just keep to myself.

"I've shoved him into a corner of my brain but it's all still there."

They talk about being extremely protective of their children and grandchildren, of their struggles to have close relationships with adults and to make friends.

None were offered help to deal with the trauma they experienced after Vincent was jailed.

"In the future, for anything like this, the system needs to look after the victims. They didn't do that for us," says one.

"I think if any one of us would have had that support, it might have changed our lives. I think for a lot of my teenage years, I was hiding in my shell, afraid to make friends," says another.

None are on the victims notification register, so have had no involvement in Vincent's parole hearings.

Most of them knew he was still in jail after reading media coverage, but none knew he was due to appear in front of the Parole Board today.

According to his parole assessment report, he wants freedom.

"I do want to be released from prison. I have been in jail a long time. I don't have sexual thoughts any more. I get locked up at 7pm every night, I keep to myself and I stay in my cell," the report quotes Vincent.

He has spent most of the past almost 44 years in Christchurch's Rolleston Prison, in its Totara Unit, and holds a minimum security classification.

The last attempt to reintegrate him into society ended 27 years ago.

In the early 1980s, the prison granted him daytime work parole and occasional weekend leave to stay with his father, but that was revoked in 1984 after he was seen in a park putting his arm around a teenage boy.

He was charged in October that year of preparing to commit a crime in a public place.

Vincent had offended against children before, earning two previous jail sentences, including a year in 1964 and 18 months in 1966 for five charges of performing indecencies on boys aged 8 to 15 years.

His latest incarceration has cost almost $4 million, according to Correction Department figures that state the average daily cost of a prisoner is $248.83.

The Salvation Army has offered to house him in supported accommodation with an option of being electronically monitored and supervised if he leaves the premises.

Three of Vincent's victims say they will accept him gaining parole under strict conditions to protect children.

"I would want to make sure he was in a facility where he is monitored 24 hours a day and not off out without supervision. I would hate to pick up the paper in six months' time and find he's been convicted of the same thing. I'd feel I'd helped him to get out," says one. "Already he's done 44 years. Maybe he has served his time. I wouldn't like to die in jail."

Another agrees, saying 44 years behind bars is long enough.

A third victim says he will accept Vincent gaining parole if he is electronically monitored and unable to leave his premises unless accompanied by an adult.

"There is a time limit for everyone to be in jail. But I know if I saw him, I'd poke his eye out. That would stop him looking at children."

But one man is adamant Vincent must remain behind bars.

"I'd rather see him stay where he is than do things with other children," he says.

Police contacted several of them in the 1980s, around the time of his temporary releases, to ask whether they thought Vincent should gain parole but both wanted him to stay behind bars.

"I said no, not really, because he hasn't learned his lesson. He's done 44 years but has he learned his lesson?" The same detective contacted him about four or five years ago to ask his views that Vincent was up for parole.

"I said I'd like to see him stay in jail. He's going to do it again. For the sake of my family and my grandchildren, leave him where he is. I'd hate it to happen to any other kid."

It's a viewpoint Sensible Sentencing Trust national spokesman Garth McVicar applauds.

"How long is long enough? I think that's up to the offender to show he has turned his life around and he's been unable to do it.

"Some of these offenders are wired in such a way they can't be rehabilitated. We've had this ideology it's all about the offender. The system bends over backwards to be fair to the offenders and it's my opinion it's too much so."

McVicar doubts fulltime supervision is sufficient to manage Vincent's risk because other offenders have escaped such measures.

But Rethinking Crime and Punishment director Kim Workman says he has seen the safe and successful reintegration of another child sex offender with low intellect and a high risk of reoffending.

"There is that humanitarian concern in saying, `Let's try to manage the risk in the community'." However, the prison's psychological service is conservative with risk assessments and the Parole Board is risk-adverse after several high-profile parole failures, he says.

"It seems almost cruel to put them out into the community especially if they are on their own. It's a huge adjustment. It's one of those conundrums, really."

As one of only 277 inmates nationwide on preventive detention, which means he can be kept in prison forever, Vincent's chances of release appear slim.

In its decision last year to deny him parole, the board said his chances of ever getting out of jail looked "bleak". "It does seem increasingly unlikely that he will be released but at some stage a further assessment of his risk will be important."

The board is considering a postponement order, which will prevent Vincent applying for parole for up to three years instead of annually.

Vincent, who has one glass eye and wears two hearing aids, had previously claimed he had sexually abused hundreds of boys since starting offending in 1952, the year he left school aged 15 years.

Whatever the board decides, his victims wish they'd never met Vincent and hope to never see him again.

As one says, tears rolling down his face: "I wish I had my life over again and had a normal relaxing life like other people."

- The Press

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