‘I don’t want to die’: Man at centre of Bledisloe St siege unfit to stand trial

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Paul Kenneth Smith has been deemed unfit to stand trial. Photo / Mark Mitchell

When a man in prison for his part in a 30-hour armed siege was told he was not fit to stand trial and would be transferred to a health facility, his first thought was for his dog.

Paul Kenneth Smith, 62, was moved from Manawatū Prison to a bed at a health unit in Porirua yesterday. On hearing the news in the Levin District Court, he asked Judge Lance Rowe if he could see Howie again.

“Can I have my dog back? That’s the one thing that will make me well,” he said.

The last time Smith saw his beloved German Shephard they were lying in bed together, covered in wet towels, as flames engulfed the Bledisloe St house in Levin and thick smoke and toxic gas filled the bedroom.


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An estimated 80 residents from surrounding homes were evacuated the night before. Continued attempts by police to negotiate a surrender with Smith overnight and through the course of the day failed. Later that night, fire broke out.

Police and armed offenders squad members attempted to enter the property but were thwarted by the presence of a visible and toxic gas coming from the front door. A white gas cloud could be seen spreading across the road.

Smith had earlier told police he had the ingredients to produce “mustard gas” and the property was booby-trapped. He placed two LPG bottles and containers of hydrochloric and nitric acid behind the screen door, and turned the nozzle on.

Two police officers that had approached the front door could “taste” an acrid gas and were forced to withdraw and seek treatment. PH indicators attached to their weapons suggested the presence of toxic gas.


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Police armed offenders squad members positioned outside the Bledisloe Street house in Levin in August last year. Photograph by Mark Mitchell.
Police armed offenders squad members positioned outside the Bledisloe Street house in Levin in August last year. Photograph by Mark Mitchell.

As the fire grew, an infra-red sighting of Smith showed he was lying on his bed next to Howie with an air rifle – loaded and cocked – across his legs.

He was then saved from the blaze as firefighters and police cut a hole in an external wall. He was rushed to Palmerston North by ambulance suffering from severe smoke inhalation. He had remained in custody since then.

Defence lawyer Simon Hewson said Smith had suffered a stroke and a series of minor strokes while in prison and had blood clots in his lungs. He had needed the aid of a wheelchair in recent times and was awaiting further cardiology and haematology assessments.

He had difficulty in taking sound instruction from Smith as a result.

Smith was able to walk unaided into the courtroom, albeit slowly, and voiced his concern for his own health.

“Will I get the help I need? That’s all I want. I know I have more clots. The next one could be fatal,” he said.

“I just want to get help so I don’t die.”

For his comfort, Smith was allowed to leave the dock and take a seat nearby a police court attendant for the duration of the three-hour hearing.

Levin District Court. Photo / Jeremy Wilkinson
Levin District Court. Photo / Jeremy Wilkinson

Judge Rowe said the court had to determine whether Smith was fit to enter plea or stand trial on seven separate charges which included charges of posting digital communication causing emotional distress, threatening to kill, intimidation, possession of hazardous substances, arson and possession of an offensive weapon.

He was presented with two independent forensic reports which said the death of his mother in 2017 and an ensuing dispute with a family member over the estate were identified as significant factors that led to a mental decline.


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Veronica Smith, 88, was the victim of a home invasion in 2017 and suffered a heart attack. She died five months later. Her death was referred to the Coroner and found not to be suspicious.

The court heard how Paul Smith, who had 15 years of volunteer service with Fire and Emergency New Zealand on his CV, had cared for his mother and paid bills. However, his continued occupation of the house following her death was deemed unlawful. He had ignored orders to vacate the house.

Smith was described as suffering from grandiose delusions that he was the victim of a conspiracy and had convinced himself his mother had been murdered.

He had become delusional and rigid in his beliefs. Disputes with his brother and his removal as executor of their mother’s estate were further catalyst for his offending.

Smith sent threatening emails to his brother’s lawyer that caused significant emotional distress. He also threatened and abused staff at the High Court in Wellington. In another email, he made reference to a “list” of 32 people he believed were involved.

He had written a letter to his brother’s lawyer and drawn a picture depicting them hanging from a tree. Smith had asked if they wanted their “sentence” to be recorded as an accident or suicide. A photo of his mother was attached to the letter.


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Just two days before the siege Smith had threatened to kill a court bailiff in the course of serving papers, attracting the attention of police. He had said that anyone that approached the property would be treated as armed. He had boarded windows and doors at the front of the house with timber.

During the siege he was reported to have posted on social media and also told police that there would be multiple deaths if anyone tried to remove him.

Judge Rowe ruled Smith unfit to stand trial and or to make a plea.

He told Smith his health concerns would be addressed in the move to Porirua, with further health and mental health assessments.

“Let’s focus on you becoming well,” he said.

On hearing the decision Smith asked the court what type of food they served at the Porirua facility, because “macaroni and cheese goes right through me”.


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He had one further request of court staff and police as he was led away.

“Can we stop at McDonald’s?” he asked.

Smith had earlier told the court how he remembered travelling to Hamilton to get Howie as a young dog, how he had held out his paw and then jumped straight in the car.

Crown lawyer Emma Pairman said Howie had been placed with a family and was reported to be happy and healthy.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ on Air.

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