How to free the beast

ADAM DUNNING
Last updated 05:00 12/08/2012
Stewart Murray Wilson
WHANGANUI BOUND: Stewart Murray Wilson.

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When Stewart Murray Wilson is about to move in next door, it's impossible to get enthusiastic. But in a curious way, this man is so uniquely menacing that Whanganui should not have to worry about him for long.

The conditions of Wilson's imminent release to a purpose-built house in the grounds of Whanganui Prison are extraordinarily stringent for a couple of reasons. The first, official, reason is that without them this unrepentant serial rapist would be all but guaranteed to find new victims to terrify and abuse.

The second - which the Parole Board is unlikely to admit to out loud - is that with so many conditions to meet, Wilson is bound to breach one of them, and sooner rather than later.

Some of Wilson's 17 release conditions seem bizarre, but each has a sinister subtext. The ban on attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and church groups? That's because it was at such gatherings that he trawled for vulnerable women he could take home and subjugate. The ban on placing or responding to classified advertisements? That's how he found another victim. The more general bans on contact with females or anyone under the age of 16 speak for themselves.

But even if Wilson can resist seeking out alcohol, drugs, internet access, women, children, churches, classified ads, 12-step meetings, employment or a car, he is also obliged to attend sessions with a psychologist for the purpose of developing a safety plan, and to “abide by the rules” of a reintegration programme.

Wilson spent his 16 years in prison refusing to co-operate with psychiatrists, and has made endless clumsy attempts to manipulate prison officials, the legal system and the occasional reporter, so what are the odds that he's suddenly going to start behaving? He is clever, but nowhere as clever as he thinks he is. Wilson's lawyer Andrew McKenzie complains that Wilson is being set up to fail. As dodgy and unfair as it sounds, this is essentially true, and the public should be grateful for it. Wilson is likely to stuff up and be recalled to prison, where he belongs.

What's vital is that he stuffs up while doing something essentially harmless, such as trying to place a “want to meet” ad, rather than while lurking in a dark alley or phoning a past victim. (Actually, all that's needed for him to be hauled in front of a breach hearing is something that "elevates" his risk, and that could include something as minor as talking about trying to place an ad.)

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Giving a dangerous sex offender enough rope is a sloppy, scary way to keep the community safe, but in this case there are few alternatives. Corrections and the police have sometimes failed to keep close enough of an eye on a dangerous parolee or released criminal, with ghastly results. The intense media and political scrutiny of this case means you can be sure Wilson's watchers will be under enormous pressure not to screw up and give the Whanganui naysayers any cause to say "told you so”.

- Sunday Star Times

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