29 Nov 2014

Police may take weeks to charge Smith

6:28 pm on 29 November 2014

It could be weeks before police lay charges against the murderer and child molester Phillip John Smith in relation to his escape.

Phillip Smith presser

Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement and Corrections Department regional commissioner Jeanette Burns speak at a press conference in Paremoremo, Auckland, following Phillip Smith's return to New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Kiri Ennis

Smith arrived back in the country from Brazil under police escort early this morning.

He was caught in Rio de Janeiro, a week after fleeing New Zealand while on temporary release from Spring Hill Correctional Facility in the Waikato.

He was taken to Auckland Prison's maximum security unit at Paremoremo immediately after arriving in Auckland this morning and has been segregated from other prisoners.

Corrections said he would be held in his cell for 23 hours a day, with only an hour out for exercise. All of his incoming and outgoing mail would be scrutinised and his visits were to be strictly non-contact.

His lawyer Tony Ellis said other prisoners could target Smith, as they probably hold him responsible for the suspension of the temporary release programme.

Corrections Department northern regional commissioner Jeanette Burns said Smith would be held in segregation for a period of time.

"It would be fair to say there are some prisoners that are not happy that the actions of Mr Smith interrupted their rehabilitation process," she said.

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Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement said he was grateful to have Smith back in custody.

"I'd just like to take a moment and reassure the victims that he is back in custody and they're safe."

He said Smith had co-operated with police escorts on the flight back to New Zealand and had gone through ''a range of emotions''.

"If Mr Smith is disappointed about being brought back to New Zealand then that's probably tough luck for Mr Smith."

Any new charges in relation to the escape were likely to be laid in the next few weeks.

"There's no rush. We've got an investigation to complete, he's in custody, he's not going anywhere," Mr Clement said.

"There's a process that we make an arrangement with Corrections to bring him before the court when the charges are ready to be laid, and the evidence is there to support them."

Fear for Smith in prison

Smith's escape led to Corrections cancelling short-term release for prisoners nearing the end of their sentences.

Smith's lawyer, Dr Ellis, said he feared for his client's safety while he was being held in prison.

"He could be in some danger from his fellow prisoners, given the knee-jerk reaction by the Department of Corrections when he escaped," he said.

"He will be very unpopular and I have concern for his mental state, given the reality he now faces."

Dr Ellis said he was pleased police were not laying charges straight away.

"It doesn't really seem very fair that he sits on a plane for 24 hours and then you arrive at four o'clock in the morning and you have got to turn up at court immediately, that's not right."

Smith was jailed in 1996 for stabbing to death the father of a boy he had been convicted of sexually assaulting.

He was taken into custody in Rio de Janeiro on 13 November after fleeing New Zealand.

Using a passport issued in his birth name Phillip Traynor, he flew out of Auckland on 6 November to Chile, from where he went to Brazil.

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