28 Oct 2016

Dying prisoner denied compassionate release

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 28 October 2016

A convicted fraudster with terminal stomach cancer is being sent back to prison, despite her entire medical team insisting she is too sick to return.

Vicki Letele was jailed for three years and two months in March for property fraud.

She used fake documents to obtain mortgage finance for low-income families who would not otherwise have been able to get finance, and then sold those families' properties at a profit.

Six months into her sentence she was diagnosed with cancer, and given five months to live.

Her parole hearing is not until next April, and her attempts to have the date brought forward have been denied.

Letele's medical team, including senior oncologists, have written to the Parole Board, saying she can not be cared for properly in prison.

She is currently under guard in Auckland's Middlemore Hospital undergoing treatment, and will be sent back to the prison at Wiri when discharged.

Her mother, Tui Letele, said her daughter did not see a gastric specialist or an oncologist for a month, despite showing severe symptoms, and was given Mylanta - a treatment for heartburn and indigestion - and treated for an ear infection.

"She was vomiting every day in prison, she could keep no food down, she was getting weaker and weaker."

Ms Letele said she went into prison every day to beg for something to be done for her daughter.

Letele was eventually taken to hospital but, as a prisoner under a medical transfer, her mother was repeatedly denied access to her.

"We arrive at the hospital and we're not even allowed in the room. Two days later, after sitting in the hallway - I've been asked to leave every day, I'm not allowed to sit in the hallway - the doctors come in to see Vicki, I'm sitting in the foyer, and they tell Vicki the X-rays showed she had a tumour growing."

Ms Letele told Checkpoint with John Campbell the family had put in for a compassionate parole hearing, but heard last night that it had been denied, because her sickness was "not exceptional grounds for compassionate release".

Letele has had her stomach removed and a submission from Middlemore Hospital described a condition that "requires daily review by our acute pain team service".

One letter from the Counties Manukau District Health Board (DHB) said: "The best placement for Ms Letele is therefore in a home environment where she can be surrounded and supported by her family and carers."

Another, from a consultant general surgeon at the DHB, said: "We believe that a correctional facility is unlikely to be able to provide adequate access to the healthcare and support she requires."

Ms Letele said her family were begging for somebody to listen to them.

"Please have mercy on us as a family, as any family that is going through this. We just want our daughter out so we can take care of her. She is no threat to absolutely nobody. She's sick, we just want to take her home."

The lawyer for the Letele family, Mike Kilbride, told Checkpoint the judge who made the decision, Justice Warwick Gendall, was very experienced and respected.

"And on a personal level, a man with huge empathy - so I know this would not have been an easy one for him to write." 

He said there were indications that she would be released when she reappeared before the Parole Board in April, and added that the family and their lawyers would be ready to get Letele out when the prison's circumstances changed. 

"When they're no longer in a position to look after Vicki adequately and humanely then, as is indicated in the decision, there will be a release on compassionate grounds. We're putting together that information now.

"But certainly, there is no good result here, I mean we've got a lady who should've been at home, who's asking to be able to go home and die with her family." 

Corrections responds

The Department of Corrections declined be interviewed by Checkpoint.

But, in a statement, Corrections Director of Offender Health Bronwyn Donaldson said the department had a duty of care to all prisoners.

It was increasingly engaging with community health care services in the provision of palliative and end of life care for prisoners, she said.

At these times, Ms Donaldson said, Corrections worked closely with family members to ensure both the prisoner's and their family's needs were met, and the comfort and well-being of the prisoner was at the forefront.

The Corrections Act 2004 placed an obligation on the department to provide a level of medical treatment that was  reasonably necessary and a standard of health care that was reasonably equivalent to the standard of care available to the public.

For treatment purposes, a prisoner was permitted to leave prison - usually with a prison escort.

The Parole Board also declined to be interviewed.


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