12 Nov 2014

PM apologises over Phillip Smith joke

6:18 am on 12 November 2014

Prime Minister John Key has apologised for joking about fugitive murderer and sex offender Phillip Smith.

On Monday, Mr Key joked with reporters in Beijing that when he met with the Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet regarding the case, he would inform her there was a New Zealander in her country she should not invite to lunch.

At the time, it was thought Smith was in Chile, but he had since travelled on to Brazil.

John Key at APEC in Beijing.

John Key at the APEC summit in Beijing. Photo: AFP

Mr Key said it was a thoughtless remark, and he was prepared to apologise to the family of Smith's victims in person.

"Look, obviously it was a very poorly placed attempt at humour.I regret that and I unreservedly apologise."

Mr Key said he expected to get advice later in the week about whether a larger inquiry into Smith's escape is needed.

CCTV footage of  Phillip Smith as he passed through Auckland Airport.

CCTV footage of Phillip Smith as he passed through Auckland Airport. Photo: NZ Police

Smith was on 72-hour release from Spring Hill prison in Waikato last week when he absconded and flew out of Auckland on a direct flight to Chile, then on to Brazil.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said yesterday a United States-based police officer was on his way on to Brazil to assist with the manhunt.

Mike Bush said officers were talking to the two people who picked up Smith from the prison as well as people he may have interacted with prior to leaving the country.

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