Police are refusing to release the names of almost two dozen fugitives accused of child sex offences, most of whom have fled the country.
Citing privacy and operational grounds as well as name suppressions in some cases, Police National Headquarters declined a Sunday Star-Times request under the Official Information Act for the names and details of the accused, some of whom have been on the run for eight years.
The Star-Times sought the information three months ago, after it was revealed that 24 people were wanted by police for failing to appear in court to face charges of sexual offending against children under 16. We sought the names of defendants whose names had not been suppressed by the courts.
Police sought two time extensions to consider the request, before writing to the paper on Friday to say that only one of the 24 names would be released. That was Woo-Young Kim, formerly of Rotorua, who is wanted on indecency charges. He was granted special bail in 2005 to temporarily return to Korea, and disappeared. Police refused to release his date of birth, last known address and occupation for privacy reasons.
Police said that in some of the other cases suppression orders were in place, while others could not be identified as their alleged victims were family members and naming the offender could identify the child.
The police national crime manager, Detective Superintendent Rod Drew, said that of the 24 wanted people, two had since been arrested and were going through the court system and 19 of the remaining 22 were believed to have left New Zealand.
Police knew the whereabouts of seven of those and were seeking their extradition, and alerts were out with Interpol for five others. Thirteen of the fugitives were foreign citizens.
Drew said the warrants covered an eight-year period between 2004 and 2012. Nine of the cases dated between 2004 and 2006, "and despite extensive inquiries by police, no new information about these individuals has come forth".
Garth McVicar of the Sensible Sentencing Trust criticised the decision to withhold all of the names. He said government departments such as police and justice made out that public safety was their primary concern, "but it's not. They talk the talk but they're not delivering. If safety of the community was a paramount consideration we should be naming and shaming these offenders."
He called for a public register of sex offenders.
McVicar said the fact that 19 of the alleged offenders had skipped the country was alarming.
He said "huge numbers" of offenders, including alleged murderers, had fled overseas and people charged with crimes should automatically have to surrender their passports.
Auckland University law professor Bill Hodge said it was hard to rebut the police argument that naming the wanted people could identify the victims, but New Zealand's privacy culture was also playing into the hands of sex offenders.
"Our privacy culture and our suppression culture is pretty powerful, and that's why teachers can move from one school to another with various names, and this guy Henry Te Rito Miki can get away with it for years."
Drew said police generally considered that the public had a right to know, "but that right can be overridden by the interests of others" and naming the alleged offenders could identify victims.
"When you consider that 19 are out of the country, I'm not sure that naming them here is going to make a significant difference."
Drew said it was not uncommon for non-New Zealand citizens charged with serious offences to flee overseas.
"Police try to make sure they don't get bail," he said.
"If they are bailed we try and get conditions that limit their movements, such as surrendering their passports."
- © Fairfax NZ News