Editorial: Whose rights are right?

BEAST OF BLENHEIM: Stewart Murray Wilson.
BEAST OF BLENHEIM: Stewart Murray Wilson.

At the beginning of the year the country was wondering where the "Beast of Blenheim" was going to live when released from prison, the same time another convicted child sex offender was on his way to Timaru.

David Wakefield arrived in February, deported to hometown Timaru from Australia after serving time for sexual abuse of a young girl, and while he didn't stay long his paedophile past was unknown to most people.

Should we have known? Most people would say yes, but what might the community reaction have been then?

To try to run him out of town most probably. But to where?

We assume he at least had some family support here.

There's a legal difficulty here that most people would rather ignore, and that is that someone who has served their time has rights, and a level of privacy is one of them.

Unless of course that person puts themselves in a position where they might reoffend, in which case alarm bells should go off, especially in regard to paedophiles. There is a strong public right to know.

And while Timaru police were told Mr Wakefield was returning, they couldn't keep an eye on him all the time.

So how far should they go in warning the community?

In Timaru known shoplifters are identified and shop owners warned.

Likewise police are undoubtedly having quiet words in the right ears about other known criminals. They might have even in this case.

But paedophiles are a category of their own, because of the risk of vigilante action against them. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Mr Wakefield's case is also slightly different in that his offending occurred overseas, and hence he had no parole conditions attached on release. Not even a requirement to have completed a rehabilitation programme.

That is a failing of the system.

Surely like-minded countries should not only alert each other when deporting the worst of criminals, but also be able to apply reciprocal parole conditions.

And that's really all we can ask.

The fact is paedophiles exist, and they have to live somewhere.

The Timaru Herald