3 Nov 2023

Alert on bail bracelet of stabbing suspect ignored before attack

7:35 am on 3 November 2023
The owner of New Windsor Dairy was seriously injured last month in a stabbing.

The owner of New Windsor Dairy was seriously injured last month in a stabbing. Photo: RNZ / Lucy Xia

The Corrections Department didn't investigate when the bail bracelet of a man accused of stabbing a West Auckland dairy owner went offline about an hour and a half before the attack.

Corrections said it received an alert, but that was among thousands of alerts it received that day from people being electronically monitored across New Zealand.

The daylight stabbing at New Windsor Dairy early last month left its owner Suresh Patel critically injured.

Patel has only just reopened his shop in the past few days and is still recovering from the cuts to his face and neck. He struggles with chewing, and is dealing with swollen stitches and an eye injury.

The 64-year-old dairy owner is still in disbelief recalling the attack.

"At that moment he was more wilder than animal, definitely, and he wasn't came to rob us, but his target is to kill someone," he said of the attack.

His wife Daxa Patel was injured that day when trying to remove the knife from the offender, and two strangers passing by the shop also came to help.

A police car outside the New Windsor dairy in Auckland.

A police car outside the New Windsor dairy in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Suresh Patel said he is grateful that they survived.

"Our community, our friends [and] family, they prayed for us and God gave me the second life…because at that time I was thinking I am finished today, but lucky my wife is so brave, she tried to save my life."

The man arrested and charged for the attack was 24-year-old Mitchell Lam, who had been on electronically monitored bail since May this year.

He has since died in police custody.

Lam's death is being investigated by the IPCA and the police.

Corrections said Lam had breached his bail conditions five times, and had been arrested on multiple occasions by police.

On the day of the assault, Corrections said it received a "no communications" alert from Lam's tracker an hour and 40 minutes before the stabbing.

It did not investigate at that point and did not refer it to the police.

The trackers receive GPS signals to pinpoint a person's location and the information is sent through the cellphone network.

Corrections said the majority of alerts are caused by problems with network coverage.

It said in a statement it received 3038 alerts that day for the 6000 people being electronically monitored - including no communication alerts - and it needed to prioritise the higher risk alert types.

"In a small number of cases, 'no communication' alerts can represent a person interfering with their tracker in an attempt to circumvent their monitoring,

"We are able to retrospectively identify when people are interfering with their tracker in an attempt to circumvent their monitoring, and when we identify someone acting in this way, we prioritise any 'no communication' alerts received relating to them,

"However as this person had never been suspected of interfering with their tracker previously, the 'no communication' alert was not treated as likely interference and prioritised on this occasion."

Corrections said when they looked at Lam's tracker data after the assault, they found it was likely he was interfering was his tracker.

Police officers outside the New Windsor Dairy in Auckland on 5 October 2023.

A dairy owner was badly injured last month at New Windsor Dairy. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Victim advocate Ruth Money said the stabbing was preventable and it is concerning that Corrections is failing to monitor people on EM bail.

"For them to use an excuse of how many alerts they got in a day - that's their job - it's like saying you've received too many phone calls in a day… it's your job to receive those alerts and monitor those risky offenders… and keep us safe, and they have failed woefully.

"I think it's stretched to call it a monitoring service right now, we know people are putting foil, we know people are going out of service with low battery and nothing is happening, well certainly nothing is happening to the offender but plenty is happening within the community."

Money said Corrections must be open about what changes will happen immediately to ensure the community is safe.

The dairy attack is not the only time where a person has offended while being electronically monitored.

Four months ago, two people were shot dead at an Auckland CBD construction site by Matu Tangi Matua Reid, who was at the time being monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week while on home detention.

Corrections said it is working with police to improve the monitoring and it is also reviewing the management of potential tampering with electronic monitoring devices.

It said it is also been actively recruiting and retaining electronic monitoring staff, halving attrition rate by about 50 percent over the past year.

Corrections expects to report about its review into electronic monitoring to the National Commissioner by the end of the year.

There are currently 1700 people on EM bail across New Zealand, compared to 495 as of June 2017.

Corrections' national commissioner Leigh Marsh earlier told RNZ that the tamper and abscond rate of electronic bail bracelets rate sits at around 1.4 percent for July this year.

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