Inquest last chapter in grim saga

The mother of a Hope woman killed by a drunk-driver on the witness protection programme says her daughter's inquest marks the end of her long fight for justice.

"I have consciously decided in the last few months that this is the end," Judy Ashton said this morning.

"The last couple of weeks have been really hard, just thinking two more weeks and it is over. I can do no more on it. I'm putting all the files in the box, putting them in the shed. It's finished."

Mrs Ashton said her daughter Debbie's inquest was held in Wellington on Tuesday. The findings will be publicly released in a few weeks.

Miss Ashton 20, died in December 2006 when repeat driving offender Jonathan Barclay drove recklessly, resulting in her manslaughter.

A month earlier Barclay had been in court under an assumed identity, used as part of the police witness protection programme, which masked his history so he was dealt with as a first-time offender even though he was still on parole for other crimes.

In the past six years since her daughter's death Mrs Ashton has fought for changes to the justice system to ensure the courts are made aware of the criminal history of people appearing in court on the witness protection programme under their new names.

Her battle sparked a ministerial inquiry which found in 2008 that a series of individual errors within police and Corrections led to Barclay remaining at large when he should not have been in the community.

Mrs Ashton said it had been a "really long journey" and had taken way longer than she thought it would. She was pleased it had finished and changes had been made to the system and she could now focus on the future.

It was time for her to move on and enjoy her grandchildren.

Last year on the fifth anniversary of Debbie's death, Mrs Ashton's first granddaughter was born.

"For me that's a real positive. Never forget Debbie, but it's the future. I've got to keep working into that now."

She said some positive things have come out of her experience and she believed her daughter had been beside her the whole way. "It has been an experience and I have learnt masses from it . . . as much as I wouldn't have wanted to go through it or chosen to go through it, I know I'm a better person for it."

Mrs Ashton said despite the difficulties of fighting for justice for Debbie if she was put in a similar situation she would stand up and fight it again.

She said Debbie was the main reason she had pushed for the changes. "The main thing was to get their procedures and policies reviewed. Communication is better now between police and Corrections.

She said Debbie's inquest focused on the changes made by police and Corrections to ensure the court was made aware of the criminal background of people appearing on new names under the witness protection programme.

"That's what I wanted to see - that the system is working."

Mrs Ashton said she was pleased that the system had been changed.

This was evident in the way police had handled Barclay's last offence.

Barclay was released from prison after serving time for Miss Ashton's manslaughter and went to Hawke's Bay under a new name.

In August he was the driver of a BMW that did a U-turn in front of a truck. A 3-year-old boy was flung from the BMW and seriously injured.

Barclay was recalled to prison to finish his manslaughter sentence for Miss Ashton.

The sentence runs out this month. Barclay faces new dangerous driving charges and three counts of driving while under the influence of a controlled drug and causing injury.

He is yet to be sentenced on those charges.

Mrs Ashton said as soon as Barclay used his new name it alerted the witness protection programme and he was recalled to prison.

She said Barclay's latest offending had revictimised her and taken her right back to her daughter's death.

She spoke to the Parole Board yesterday about Barclay.

"It was my last opportunity to explain to the board how his latest offending had affected me."