Police admit failings in Nisbet death probe

Last updated 15:53 19/12/2013

Nisbet's brother speaks

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Police are admitting failings in their investigation in the poisoning of Christchurch truck driver Philip James Nisbet, saying it should have been treated as a homicide from the start.

Canterbury District Detective Inspector Tom Fitzgerald said officers involved in the initial inquiry into Nisbet's May 2009 death had been reprimanded by a senior officer. Nisbet's wife Helen Elizabeth Milner was not arrested until May 2011; she was convicted of murdering her husband today.

"We accept that the initial inquiry, some aspects of it weren't handled thoroughly," Fitzgerald said. "The initial investigation wasn't treated as a homicide as it should have been."

''All the failings have been pointed out to them - they accept those - and I'm confident that they will never make those mistakes again.''

Changes were not necessary in the wake of the case, Fitzgerald said. He declined to release an internal report on the police failings because of privacy and employment issues.

"Hindsight is a great thing, but the officers that did the initial investigation missed those initial points as treating it as a homicide. Had that been done we would have got the result we got from the second inquiry."

It was unfair to single out one officer for their role in the botched inquiry, he said.

"You cannot point the finger at one person in this inquiry. The initial investigation was handled by a number of people."


Meanwhile, Milner's son is taking her to court for allegedly framing him for committing a crime.

Adam Kearns, 22, is demanding $60,000 from his mother for the "loss of liberty, the humiliation and distress" caused by an ordeal in which he was held behind bars for more than two weeks for breaching a protection order in April 2010, his lawyer, Kerry Cook, says.

A jury today convicted Milner, 50, of murder and attempted murder, four and a half years after the death of her husband, Philip James Nisbet, 47, a truck driver.

Nisbet was found dead in bed at the couple's home in Checketts Ave, Halswell, on May 4, 2009.

It emerged that Milner bought a SIM card for a cellphone and sent messages to herself under the guise of her son in March 2010.

Kearns indicated to Milner that he was willing to resolve the matter for $30,000, but she did not respond by a deadline last week.

Cook hopes to file court documents supporting the claim this week.

Details of the case have previously been suppressed, but it can now be revealed that Milner and Kearns' former partner, Kasey Woodstock, went to the police in April 2010 alleging that Kearns sent them abusive and threatening text messages while a court order prevented him from contacting them.

Kearns was arrested for allegedly breaching a protection order and held in custody for 16 days because Milner and Woodstock told police they feared for their safety.

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The charges against Kearns were dropped, and his mother was charged with perverting the course of justice.

Milner denied the offending but later plead guilty and was jailed last year for two years and eight months. She claimed to have no memory of what she had done.

At the time, Judge Paul Keller said Kearns suffered while in prison, had to sell his car to pay rent and lost the chance to start a job he had lined up.

"Needless to say he found the experience of being remanded in custody extremely harrowing," the judge said.

It was difficult to understand what motivated Milner to commit the crime, but it might have been to deny her son the chance of seeing his own son, Judge Kellar said.

"That is almost too perverse to contemplate, but I can't imagine what other motivation you had," he said.

A psychiatrist's report showed that Milner suffered from mild to moderate symptoms of depression.

Milner, 50, was denied release in June this year because the Parole Board believed she still posed a risk to the community.

She was nicknamed the "black widow" by colleagues because of her questions about poison.

- The Press

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