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Marc My Words, 21 May 2004 - Justice or Just Is?

Marc My Words. By Marc Alexander MP

Justice or Just Is?

Last Monday I was in the High Court in Auckland along with members of the Sensible Sentencing Trust to support Tai Hobson's legal bid to hold the Corrections Department to account for their part in the death of his wife. It was Tai's wife Mary who, with two others, was bludgeoned to death by William Duane Bell and two accomplices in the December 2001 robbery at the Mt Wellington-Panmure RSA.

The motivation behind Tai Hobson's suit is his claim that a series of blunders by the Corrections Department resulted in their failure to prevent Bell from committing this hideous crime. It's worth noting that the Government has already admitted as much in a publicly released report in February last year, citing staff shortages and lack of experience in the handling of Bell's parole.

Tai's case (which specifies compensation payments of $50,000 for 'pain and suffering' and $500,000 in exemplary damages) goes to the very heart of victims rights; it tests public confidence in the justice system to advocate on behalf of the law-abiding, and calls on government departments to take responsibility for their performance in carrying out their public duty.

The claims against Probation Service staff include: * Lack of referrals and follow-up for Bell to attend counselling * Referrals were not made or followed up to complete Bell's assessment for alcohol/drug therapy * Supervising officer did not visit Bell at home * Supervising officer did not check or approve Bell's change of address * Bell was allowed to go on fortnightly reporting before the expiry of the first third of his parole period * Case notes were incomplete * Between 12 October and 14 November 2001 Bell was not required to report

Tai's suit alleges that the Probation Service was reckless and oblivious to the potential consequences of failing to adequately monitor the parole conditions - an indifference that had tragic consequences. I am incredulous that anyone who knew Bell would not also know of his propensity for violence, and then claim that the crime was unforeseeable. If so-called 'experts' considered that he was not a high risk, I'd certainly like them to explain their thinking.

It is on that point that the events in the Court proceedings hinged, because the Crown contends that the supervising probation staff could not reasonably predict Bell's murderous rampage; a contention that surely rates alongside the Easter bunny in terms of credibility!

Given Bell's track record, how could any reasonable person not conclude that he was fully capable and potentially able to commit more serious crimes? Bell had 102 convictions!! Most of which were for violent behaviours!

Furthermore, to add absurdity to what I believe is reckless stupidity, the Mangere Service Probation Officer did not start proceedings which would have placed Bell before the Parole Board on 4 December, (a full week before he went to the RSA and slaughtered those innocent victims!).

Bell should have appeared before the Parole Board as a result of his earlier offence of an assault on a woman in November 2001, (and this was after his July 2001 release from prison under parole conditions, for aggravated robbery). What does it take to get the message through that some people are well beyond the possibility of rehabilitation? How many more innocents will die and how many families be destroyed before the interests of the public take precedence?

Had the Probation Service done what they should have, Bell would have been inside Auckland's maximum security prison the week before the RSA killings. William Absolum, Wayne Johnson and Tai's wife, Tina Mary Hobson, would be alive, and Susan Couch would not have had to endure and survive the devastating attempt on her life.

Whatever the legal merits of the case it seems clear to me that where parole conditions are not met, those responsible should be held liable. What warning flags do these people require before they are called to be fully accountable?

As I sat there listening to the Court process unfold, I reflected on Tai's terrible loss. the loss of his life companion..the loss of a mother to his son. Among those who came to support them in demanding justice there was not one person from the Department of Corrections, nor anyone from the Ministry of Justice. It seemed to me that had they been there, they would have hung their heads in shame. And it occurred to me that it is sadly ironic that when the public demands justice, those charged with upholding our justice system are either strangely silent, or strangely absent. Victims like Tai Hobson deserve much more than that.


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