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Did police drop ball over Burton fiasco?

Simon Power MP
National Party Justice & Corrections Spokesman

30 November 2007

Did police drop ball over Burton fiasco?

A Corrections Department report into the Graeme Burton tragedy suggests police played a bigger role in the fiasco than previously thought, says National's Justice & Corrections spokesman, Simon Power.

"National has compared what was reported of the evidence in the inquest into the killing of Karl Kuchenbecker, with a February 2007 report by Corrections, and something doesn't seem right.

"Police told the Coroner yesterday that warrants for Burton's arrest for breaching parole were issued on December 22 but were not picked up till January 3 because they lay in court and police in-trays while staff were on leave.

"The Corrections Department report says that when that warrant was issued by the court, it was placed in a file basket to be collected by the Police Prosecutor - but for some reason that didn't happen.

"But the report also says police were told on December 22, the same day, that two warrants to arrest Burton had been issued in Wellington District Court and that 'the Probation Officer left a telephone message for the Detective from the Wellington Police, informing him that two Warrants to Arrest had been issued that morning'.

"This indicates that police knew about the warrant before Christmas, which seems to be at odds with what has been reported at the inquest.

"The report also says Corrections then applied for an order to recall Burton to prison on 29 December. The Parole Board immediately granted an Interim Recall order, and 'the Warrant for Return to Prison was hand delivered to the Wellington Police the same day'.

"So, if Corrections is to be believed, police were told twice before the end of December - on the 22nd and on the 29th - that there were warrants for Burton's arrest, but they did nothing about it till 13 days later.

"To add to this mess, the police specialist surveillance squad, which specialises in tracking wanted criminals, was on leave until January 3.

"The Minister has confirmed that deployment of both the surveillance squad and the police special tactics group were considered, but we've yet to learn why they weren't deployed.

"But the more immediate question is why police didn't act on the warrants to arrest, the telephone message advising of the warrant, and later the warrant for recall that was hand delivered to the police.

"They knew he was a risk, having told Corrections on November 25 that they feared 'there will be one punch too many, resulting in murder/death/kill'.

"It's clear that the whole justice system let Karl Kuchenbecker down:

* Corrections failed to give all relevant information to the Parole Board, and to act immediately when Burton breached parole, despite police concerns.

* The Parole Board let him out on loose terms despite being told he should be 'carefully managed' and kept under 'close supervision'.

* The Probation Service did not appoint a replacement when Burton's probation officer went on leave, meaning a warning letter remained unopened for six days.

* The courts let the arrest warrant sit in an in-tray

* The police apparently failed to act on multiple messages regarding the warrants.
"I would hate to think that some of these mistakes came down to a lack of staffing over the holidays, because criminals like Burton don't take holidays."


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