Crucial information omitted in Garrett case

BY TRACY WATKINS, IAN STEWARD AND JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 19:19 16/09/2010
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ACT MP David Garrett appears to have omitted crucial information about a previous criminal conviction when he pleaded for clemency from the courts after being caught stealing the identity of a dead baby to obtain a false passport.

An affidavit sighted by TVNZ shows Garrett told the court in 2005 that he had not previously offended.

The judge went on to grant him a discharge without conviction saying Mr Garrett had had a blameless life.

But it emerged this week that Mr Garrett had a prior conviction from an assault charge in Tonga in 2002.

TVNZ said it had sighted court documents which showed Mr Garrett stated he had committed no offences since becoming a lawyer in 1992.

"The worst I could be accused of is in incurring some parking and speeding fines.”

Name suppression over Garrett's 2005 court hearing has just been lifted.

Garrett was discharged without conviction and granted permanent name suppression after he stole the identity of a dead two-year-old boy in 1984 and used it to obtain a false passport in the boy's name.

The notes show that Garrett initially denied the offence but at a subsequent police interview admitted the crime.

He had told police he saw it as ''a bit of a lark'' and frankly doubted it would work.

He had invented details of an ''identifier'' person who was supposed to have known him for a year.

He had attached a photo of himself disguised in glasses with dyed hair.

In his defence, Garrett noted he suffered from an anxiety depressive condition, which he had well controlled by daily anti-depressants.

The summary of facts says the dead baby's identity was stolen by Garrett for his own benefit.

The boy had died aged two in 1962.

Garrett had gone to a cemetery and found the boy's headstone then used the identity for a false passport application. He had provided a false address.

Garrett told police he had never used the passport and he had destroyed it in 1988 after discussing it with another law student.

He said he had obtained the passport with ''delusions of grandeur'' and he had read Day of the Jackal in which central character got a passport in the same way.

At sentencing, Judge K de Ridder had described it as ''a foolish prank''.

In his defence, Garrett's counsel had said he had been working on an oil rig in a ''roughneck'' lifestyle. There was no sensible explanation for his ''smart alec'' behaviour except that he thought it would be challenging to see if he could get away with it.

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Garrett's counsel had said that in the worst case scenario a conviction would lead to him losing his practising law certificate and be denied entry to Tonga, where he lived. That would leave him without an income.

At 47, he was ''too old to retrain'' and for 20 years he had suffered from an anxiety depressive condition, which he had well controlled by daily anti-depressants.

He did not refer to his mental condition as an excuse but because he was not as psychologically robust as he would like to be.

Although he was reluctant to use his condition as a mitigating factor, he said he would suffer far more than simple professional and personal embarrassment as a result of a conviction.

Judge de Ritter agreed a conviction would be out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence.

Garrett had been a roughneck but he was ''obviously a million miles from that position now''.

The passport had not been used.

''I have no doubt whatsoever that you will not appear before the court again,'' Judge de Ritter said.

''You have otherwise led a blameless life and the effect on you and your family by publication would be totally out of proportion to any public interest there can be in these matters. Accordingly there will be an order permanently suppressing your name.''

'BIZARRE' ACTIONS

Earlier Garrett's actions were labelled as "bizarre" by Prime Minister John Key.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to Fox Glacier, Key said he could not explain Garrett's behaviour which was unsurprising since "he doesn't seem to be able to explain it".

Garrett yesterday revealed in Parliament that he had stolen the identity of a dead baby to get a fake passport, inspired by the novel The Day of the Jackal.

He told Parliament he pleaded guilty and was discharged without conviction. His name was suppressed, but he said he was revealing the crime under parliamentary privilege after news leaked to the media.

Garrett's statement to the House came two days after he admitted he had a 2002 conviction for assault, following a fight outside a Tongan bar.

Garrett's fitness as an MP was a matter for the ACT party, Key said. "That's for them to consider, they knew about it when they brought him in so it wasn't as if they didn't know about it," he said.

"They obviously decided at the time that people make mistakes in their lives and to look through that.''

His behaviour would be unacceptable in his current role as an MP, but Key said it was for ''the public to judge''. ''I find the behaviour very odd.''

Key said he had not been warned about the news before it broke in the media and that he had been shocked by the revelations.

His actions were a ''terrible thing'' for the baby's family, and it difficult for them to have to re-live it, he said.

Earlier in the day, Police Minister Judith Collins said Garrett's past did not affect the credibility of the three strikes legislation which he proposed.

Garrett's revelations have raised questions about his role as ACT law and order spokesman, in which he fronted the policy of "zero tolerance" for crime and steered through the controversial three strikes law.

Collins said: "The legislation was voted on by parliament and it incorporated quite a lot of the National party policy at election. It is far more than simply about the strikes, it also about parole. It's a very good piece of legislation."

She refused to comment on Garrett's actions. " That's a matter for the ACT party, it's not a matter for me to comment on. "

But she took a sideswipe at Labour's Trevor Mallard, who was privately prosecuted for fighting in a public place in 2007. " I don't think that Mr [Phil] Goff seems to worry about Mr Mallard, who has his conviction for assault, in the front bench of the Labour party."

Garrett has made an "urgent" application to the High Court to have the suppression order on his passport fraud case lifted, ACT Deputy leader John Boscawen said today.

Boscawen said Garrett would not be fronting up to reporters until the suppression order was lifted. "David Garrett has made an application - well his solicitors have - this morning lifting the suppression order and when that is done he will gve a full interview to the press. He's hopeful that will be lifted by the end of the day."

Asked if he was happy to sit alongside Garrett he said: "that's the only comment I'd like to make."

An ACT spokesman said Garrett was in his office but would not be coming to the House this afternoon.

ACT'S FUTURE

ACT leader Rodney Hide is cutting short a trip to Hong Kong to return to Wellington.

It is understood Hide will return tomorrow to front the media after revelations about Mr Garrett's criminal past.

Hide has been in Hong Kong for his son's 21st birthday.

Asked if the ACT party had a future MP Sir Roger Douglas said "of course it does."

"ACT has a perfect future."

The Speakers office confirmed today that Garrett is still the Act party nominee for the Speakers tour to Israel.

Former ACT MP Deborah Coddington told Radio NZ the situation was farcical and the party appeared to be deeply divided.

She said the ongoing sideshow was not good for the Government either.

Coddington said Hide's reputation was also affected and the party's future was shaky.

FAMILY'S DISTRESS

The sister of the dead baby boy whose identity Garrett stole has spoken of the family's distress.

The woman said last night that the boy's mother was still deeply upset that Garrett had used the two-year-old's name to get a false passport in 1984, 22 years after the child died. "This is very upsetting. It's too distressing," she said.

The father of a newborn baby whose identity was stolen in another case says ACT MP David Garrett should resign from Parliament after the MP explained the crime away as a "harmless prank".

The identity of Graham Peach's dead baby son Michael was stolen by Bruce Dale, who was jailed in 2008 for two years and four months after he obtained the name.

Peach and Michael's mother Maureen Peach, had tended his grave for 47 years before it was revealed his name had been taken by Bruce Dale.

"We just couldn't believe it. This only happens to anyone else, it doesn't happen to you," Peach told Radio New Zealand.

Following Garrett's revelation, Peach said the parents of the boy whose identity Mr Garrett had stolen would have felt the same emotions they had felt.

"That they had been abused.

"I don't know how he can sit in Parliament, to tell you the honest truth. I really, really don't. Why didn't he come out and say what he had done beforehand, instead of hiding. He is ashamed of what he has done now he has been caught out and now he wants to say it's a prank.

"He should be absolutely ashamed to say that, it's not a prank. I wouldn't wish it on him to go through."

Parliament did not need such untruthfulness, he said.

"If I had done something like that I would have to resign."

SPEAKER: NOTHING I CAN DO

When Speaker Lockwood Smith was asked if Garrett was fit to be an MP he said:

"He's a Member of Parliament, there's not a lot as speaker I can do about that."

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English told Radio New Zealand it was not up to the National Party, which has a support agreement with ACT, to decide whether Mr Garrett was still fit to be an MP.

"He's explained his position to the house and the public and his supporters need to make up their own minds about that," he said.

"It is a matter for the ACT party."

Labour leader Phil Goff said he felt for the family of the dead child.

"The very worst thing here is for the family of that dead child whose identity was stolen," Goff told Radio New Zealand.

"They have effectively been gagged for years by a suppression order while they have to listen to Mr Garrett pontificating about being opposed to suppression orders, being in favour of openness, being in favour of the rights of victims and he's been anything but."

Goff said ACT had shown rank hypocrisy and it was time for National to stand a credible candidate against  Hide in Epsom.

STATEMENT TO PARLIAMENT

He told Parliament he obtained the false passport after reading about the method used by the assassin in The Day of the Jackal, a thriller by Frederick Forsyth.

Garrett said he was arrested in a police swoop on fake passports in 2005 – after two Israelis were caught using dead babies' identities to get New Zealand passports.

He told Parliament he pleaded guilty and was discharged without conviction. His name was suppressed, but he said he was revealing the crime under parliamentary privilege after news leaked to the media.

Garrett, who was about 26 when he got the passport, said he regarded the crime at the time as a "harmless prank", but now realised the hurt it had caused the boy's family.

"To this day, I cannot explain the rationale behind my actions, except to say I was simply curious to see whether such a thing could be done.

"I gave no thought whatsoever to the effect it would have on others. The regret I feel at the hurt I unwittingly caused the family of the deceased child is something I carry with me today and will continue to carry for the rest of my life."

He said he had written to the family to apologise after his arrest.

ACT LEADER KNEW ABOUT INCIDENTS

ACT leader Rodney Hide said he knew about both incidents well before Garrett became an MP.

"When I first suggested that he should put his name forward to stand, he said, `There's a couple of things you should know', and he was quite reluctant.

"I said, `Look, plenty of people have done things in their past – it's what you do now, how you campaign and what you do in Parliament that counts', but he was always concerned it would come out."

Hide said last night that using a dead baby's identity to get a passport was a "horrific" crime but Garrett would remain law and order spokesman.

Garrett was a lawyer for the hardline law and order lobby group Sensible Sentencing Trust before entering Parliament.

Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said last night that Garrett should get a second chance.

"I still believe he has a lot to offer this country. David, in hindsight, will be wishing he'd been honest with New Zealand at the same time [as] he was honest with Rodney Hide."

Many people had past criminal convictions but had turned their lives around.

Detective Inspector Neil Hallett, who led the swoop on fake passports after the arrest of the Israelis, said stealing a dead infant's identity was heart wrenching for families when the crime was discovered.

"They dealt with the issue, then 30 or 40 years later it gets brought up again."

CAUGHT OUT

Anyone using a dead person's identity to obtain a passport has a high likelihood of being caught. Systems including death-record checks, a shorter term of passport validity and the introduction of e-passports have made the crime easier to detect. Fictional assassin "The Jackal" kept his cover in Frederick Forsyth's 1971 novel The Day of the Jackal by using names from headstones to apply for birth certificates and false passports.

People who have been caught in New Zealand include:

2006: Frank Macskasy, 48, of Upper Hutt, is fined $2000 for forgery after using the name and details of a dead baby to get a passport. He said he had wanted to try The Day of the Jackal scam.

2006: Porirua man Dacey Jon Cameron is jailed for two years after attempting to obtain a passport in the name of a dead baby. Cameron changed his name by deed poll in 2004 to that of an infant who died almost four decades before and applied for a passport soon after.

2006: Peter Fulcher, a former kingpin in the Mr Asia drug syndicate, escapes a jail term despite admitting stealing the identity of a five-year-old who died in 1945, to obtain a passport.

2006: Rotorua man Christopher Mark Grose, 36, is fined $10,000 after stealing the identity of a dead baby to obtain a passport.

2005: William Kevin Roach, 49, a United States citizen, is jailed after admitting forgery charges. Also inspired by The Day of the Jackal, he assumed the identity of a baby after visiting a Tauranga cemetery.

2000: Jo-Anne Mary Cole, 43, is sentenced to 4 1/2 years' jail after being convicted of fraud and passport offences. Cole also used the Forsyth techniques.

IN GARRETT'S OWN WORDS

"If you target offenders at the lower end, you stop them from descending down the road to more serious crimes."

– Speech to Sensible Sentencing Trust, August 25.

"In the age of the internet, suppressing names can seem pointless to the point of [being] farcical."

– Blog post on June 16.

"Criminals are not stupid. They may not have university degrees or even have finished high school, but they know about cause and effect as it affects them."

– Speech to Parliament, May 25.

- with Amy Glass and NZPA

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