11 Nov 2014

Father 'appalled' at Smith's release

11:59 am on 11 November 2014

The father of the murderer Phillip John Smith who fled the country last week believes his son should never have been let out on temporary release.

Smith was on 72-hour release from Spring Hill prison in Waikato last week when he absconded and flew to Chile.

He was jailed in 1996 for murder, aggravated robbery, sexual violation, indecent assault on a boy and kidnapping.

His father John Traynor is critical of the Corrections Department over its decision to let him out on three day release .

"I think it's quite appalling to be perfectly honest," he told Morning Report.

"They did feel that he was unreliable. In hindsight they've got to give a little leeway to find out whether he could make amends but I don't think deep down inside that the people that made the decision did honestly believe in their own hearts that he was going to turn out to be any benefit to society."

Mr Traynor said his son was a dangerous man. "Very unreliable, very manipulative, probably the best way to describe him."

He had told the Parole Board he was not prepared to have any contact with his son, should he be released. "No way can I in any way give any leniency or understanding or tolerance to paedophiles."

Mr Traynor said he had had only one contact with Smith in the 1990s, a few months before he was convicted. Smith asked if he could live with him, but Mr Traynor said he refused unless his son could live a like a law-abiding citizen.

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'Help' getting passport

Police Minister Michael Woodhouse told Morning Report there will be an investigation into how Smith was able to get a passport. The inquiry will also focus on any help Smith might have got from outside jail.

Hours after leaving prison, Smith flew direct from Auckland to Santiago on a passport obtained in his birth name of Phillip John Traynor. The Department of Corrections was not aware until it made checks two days later that he had gone missing.

The Department of Internal Affairs says it is not clear how the convicted man managed to lodge an application under the name of Traynor while still in prison in 2013 and said it was likely he had the assistance of an accomplice.

The department said there was no record of his incarceration under his legal name of Traynor as he was imprisoned under an alias.

Internal Affairs said in a statement passport applications were checked for court orders before being issued. There were no court orders against Smith under his legal name of Traynor when he was convicted, so no grounds for the Department to reject his passport application.

Corrections' national commissioner Jeremy Lightfoot believes Smith's escape was planned over months or even years.

At a media conference yesterday Mr Lightfoot said Smith's prison releases were short.

"For the 12 months up until April this year, Smith was given six different temporary release days of up to 12 hours," he said.

National Commissioner of Corrections Jeremy Lightfoot.

National Commissioner of Corrections Jeremy Lightfoot. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Smith had in 1995 stabbed to death a man in Wellington whose son he had been sexually abusing and was convicted the following year. He had earlier tracked the family from the Wairarapa, where he was facing sex charges, to the Wellington suburb of Johnsonville where they were living in a supposedly safe house.

Smith was picked up from prison on Thursday morning by two of his eight sponsors. One was a female family member but police would not give any details on the second person. The sponsor would not tell Corrections where she took him or how he got a passport.

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesperson Ruth Money is questioning what role Smith's sponsor played in his escape to Chile.

"I'd suggest the sponsor has played a large part in this because he could not have done this by himself.

"He's had previous releases and I'd suggest that would've included getting a passport sorted, and planning to get on a plane and eventually disappear," she said.

Corrections says Smith's completed passport was not sent to the Spring Hill Prison where he was incarcerated.

Internal Affairs says prisoners do not automatically lose the right to be issued with a passport and the Minister of Internal Affairs can decide if they should be issued one.

Read the Parole Board's March 2014 decision on Phillip John Smith

The Sensible Sentencing Trust says given the nature of Smith's manipulative offending, he should have been electronically monitored during all temporary releases, as his escape suggests others could do the same.

But the Wellington president of the Howard League for prison reform Madeleine Rose disagrees.

"I don't think prisoners will be thinking that at all as most prisoners are really pleased to get day release and by the time this occurs, they're well behaved and have been through rehabilitation.

"It's a real privilege that most treat with respect," She said.

Police Assistant Commissioner Malcolm Burgess said police are working with Chilean authorities through Interpol to capture Smith, and he is not ruling out sending police officers to Chile.

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