1 Oct 2015

Ministers poised to release Smith inquiry

11:16 am on 1 October 2015

A long-awaited inquiry into official dealings with convicted murderer and sex offender Phillip John Smith could be released today.

Phillip Smith presser

Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement and Corrections Regional Commissioner Jeanette Burns speak at a media conference following Phillip Smith's return to New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Kiri Ennis

It will examine the role several government departments played in failing to prevent Smith's dramatic flight from this country.

Phillip John Smith

Phillip John Smith Photo: RNZ

Smith was jailed for life in 1996 for murdering the father of a boy he had sexually assaulted, kidnapping, and other charges. He was given temporary release from Springhill Prison in Waikato last year.

While on release, he flew from Auckland to Chile and then on to Brazil, where he was recognised and the police informed while he was staying at a backpacker's hostel in Rio de Janeiro.

He was then returned to this country and recalled to serve his life sentence for murder.

He is also awaiting trial for escaping, and the trial is set down for next year.

Questions asked

A man who helped Smith to escape has been jailed for 18 months and two other people are going through the courts.

His flight from custody produced an outcry in this country and the government subsequently ordered an inquiry into many aspects of Smith's escape.

It will focus on his ability to get a passport under his birthname of Phillip John Traynor without this apparently triggering any recognition of his usual name.

Another target for the inquiry will be his ability to use this passport to pass through border control without being picked up.

The investigation will also look at people's ability to use aliases in dealings with the criminal justice system and the documents they use to support this.

Other subjects will be the policies applied to Smith while he was in prison, the appropriateness of giving him temporary release, and the monitoring of him while he was on temporary release.

National MP, Paula Bennett.

State Services Minister Paula Bennett has been overseeing the inquiry. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Several government agencies are in the firing line for this report: Corrections, which administers prisons; Internal Affairs, which handles passports; and Customs, which administers the borders, along with the Ministry of Justice.

The report is being put together by former judge John Priestley and retired diplomat Simon Murdoch.

It was originally supposed to be completed by 30 June, but it needed more time and got an extension until 25 August.

Ministers have now had more than a month to examine the report and are expected to make it public this week.

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