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Police pack rapist Brad Shipton dies after long battle with dementia, victim says ‘good riddance’

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Brad Shipton was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison after a landmark police investigation into the abduction and pack rape of a young woman. Photo / Ross Setford

Warning: This story deals with sexual offending and may be distressing.

A disgraced detective exposed as a sexual predator in an explosive case which changed the New Zealand police force has died.

Brad Shipton, who had spent most of the past decade in rest home care suffering from early dementia, died in April. He was 65.

His death came 20 years after he was first publicly accused, with other police officers, of raping Louise Nicholas in the 1980s and 1990s.

Her allegations — including being violated with a police baton — triggered an extensive police investigation, Operation Austin, and a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the culture of the police and how sexual assault cases were investigated.

Shipton, and his co-defendants Clint Rickards and Bob Schollum, claimed the group sex with Nicholas was consensual. The trio were found not guilty at a 2006 trial.

However, the jury was unaware Shipton and Schollum were already in prison for raping another woman in Mt Maunganui in 1989.

The victim of the Mt Maunganui case, who was just 20 at the time of the attack, came forward to Operation Austin in 2004.

She was lured to a lifeguard tower on the pretext of a lunch date with Shipton, according to her evidence at trial.

Instead, she was handcuffed, raped, forced to perform oral sex and violated with a police baton by Shipton and other men, including Schollum.

In sentencing Shipton and Schollum to eight-and-a-half years and eight years in prison respectively, Justice Ron Young described them as “corrupt police officers” who treated the victim “like a piece of meat”.

The bravery of the women who came forward also led to the Royal Commission of Inquiry, known as the Bazley Report, making 64 recommendations to improve police culture and improve how victims were treated by the criminal justice system.

Louise Nicholas declined to comment on Shipton’s death. “He’s been dead to me for a long time”.

But the woman whose evidence led to Shipton’s rape conviction said learning of his death had caused her to reflect on the vast harm he had caused.

“I would like to encourage women who were assaulted by him to bury the harm with him. To know that they are safe. We don’t need to look over our shoulders any more.”

She recounted how she ran into Shipton at a bakery in Paeroa, not long after he was released from prison. He didn’t recognise her, however.

“I went up to him and said, ‘What a beautiful day’. He said, ‘Yes, it is’. And I replied, ‘It must be really nice to have that taste of freedom, eh Brad’,” the woman told the Herald.

“I was shaking, it was like an out-of-body experience. If I’d had my wits about me, I probably would have dealt with him. It took me months to get over that.”

She paid tribute to the investigators in Operation Austin, which she believed changed the police force — and how victims of sexual assault were treated.

Despite her feelings towards Shipton, his victim also wanted to acknowledge his family’s loss.

“They went through hell, too. But the number of his victims, the harm he caused to so many people, is far greater and warrants marking his death.

“Good riddance.”

Donna Johnson was another woman who accused Shipton of forcing her to perform a sex act in the 1990s, when he was a serving police officer, as well as being intimidated by his colleagues to stay quiet.

She also welcomed the news of his death.

“Shipton; New Zealand police officer and Tauranga City councillor with friends in very high places. You never fooled me or my community,” Johnson said.

“Those who knew you, knew you very well. My world is a better place without you and your people.”

Jared Savage is an award-winning journalist who covers crime and justice issues, with a particular interest in organised crime. He joined the Herald in 2006, and is the author of Gangland and Gangster’s Paradise.

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