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Murderer, prison escapee Phillip John Smith files court action against Parole Board

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Phillip John Smith has filed legal action against the New Zealand Parole Board. Photo / Nick Reed

Notorious killer and prison escapee Phillip John Smith has filed a court action against the body that determines when he will be let out of jail.

Smith has alleged the New Zealand Parole Board “misinterpreted” provisions of the Parole Act 2002 when considering his eligibility for release on parole.

In an application to the High Court, he has sought declarations be made upholding his claim.

Smith, 48, was denied parole in April 2022 following his 13th hearing before the board. He is due to appear again in July this year.

The high-profile offender was jailed for life in 1995 for murdering the father of a young boy Smith was convicted of sexually abusing.

He made international headlines in 2014 when he fled to South America while on temporary release from jail.

However, his escape was fleeting as a tourist recognised Smith in a hostel in Rio de Janeiro, having seen him on the news, and alerted police.

Smith was brought back to New Zealand, and he has since taken several cases against the Department of Corrections for what he claimed were breaches of his rights. These included challenges of the agency’s refusal to let him sport a hairpiece in prison, to wear a necklace, to have a specific stereo, or to allow child sex offenders in prison to have sex with one another.

Smith’s latest case, taking aim at the Parole Board, was revealed in a High Court judgment released on February 1.

The decision did not expand on Smith’s allegations against the board, dealing only with the preliminary matter of which legal procedure was the most appropriate for the declaratory judgment proceedings.

Phillip John Smith at the airport in 2014 when he fled New Zealand.
Phillip John Smith at the airport in 2014 when he fled New Zealand.

It did state, however, that the relief sought by Smith was “purely declaratory”.

“He makes it clear that he is only seeking the court’s decision on the appropriate meaning of the provisions of the Parole Act.”

Justice Francis Cooke declined Smith’s application for leave to commence proceedings under one part of the High Court Rules 2016 which concerns originating applications, but directed that it be accepted for filing under another, which concerns applications in equity and other statutes.

Still an undue risk

The Parole Board’s decision following Smith’s last hearing, in 2022, found he remained an undue risk.

It said Smith had completed the prison’s Child Sex Offender Treatment Programme and shown an intellectual understanding of its content.

But, the psychological report stated he lacked a “congruent emotional response”.

Smith was also identified to do the Special Treatment Unit Rehabilitation Programme (Sturp), but a psychologist said “given his personality” he was unlikely to undertake the programme successfully.

The alternative was for him to engage in one-on-one counselling with a psychologist, which would primarily focus on his violence and dishonesty.

While the board was concerned about Smith’s continued “manipulative and deceitful” conduct, it was equally concerned by the rehabilitative work being undertaken while he was facing active dishonesty charges.

At the time of the 2022 hearing, Smith was facing multiple charges of dishonestly using a document for pecuniary advantage.

” […] It is vital the exact extent of his criminal offending, particularly the more recent allegations, be clear before rehabilitative work is undertaken,” the decision stated.

The board said it would meet with Smith again in 2024, after the dishonesty charges were resolved and Smith had made progress with his rehabilitation.

“Currently, we doubt whether Mr Smith is in a position to undertake reintegration given his long history of dishonesty and significant concern about his risk. In the meantime, he remains an undue risk.”

The dishonesty matter was resolved last year when Smith pleaded guilty to 19 charges, which related to him using a Covid business-support loan to commit dishonesty offences from prison.

He was sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment to be served concurrently and ordered to pay $53,593.41 in reparations to IRD.

Tara Shaskey joined NZME in 2022 as a news director and Open Justice reporter. She has been a reporter since 2014 and previously worked at Stuff, where she covered crime and justice, arts and entertainment, and Māori issues.

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