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Runaway rapist: How Bay of Plenty’s Lee Josey got a passport on bail and left NZ

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A New Zealand passport. Photo / Mark Mitchell

There were missed opportunities to potentially stop an accused rapist on bail from getting a passport and skipping the country undetected weeks before his trial, police have acknowledged.

Bay of Plenty man Lee Richard Josey is still on the run in Australia after he was convicted of serious sexual offending against teenage girls.

A jury found him guilty in January after a Rotorua District Court judge took the “unusual” step of allowing the trial to go ahead in Josey’s absence.

The 44-year-old former truck driver was charged in 2020 but delays relating to the Covid-19 pandemic meant his trial did not start until January 22 this year.

But Josey, who was on bail awaiting his trial, applied for a passport in October last year and left for Australia in November.

The Rotorua District Court jury found him guilty on all nine charges relating to two teenage victims. A warrant has been issued for his arrest and police are now working with Australian authorities to extradite him to New Zealand.

If found, he will be arrested when he returns to New Zealand and sentenced on April 15.

How accused rapist Lee Josey got a passport on bail

The Rotorua Daily Post asked the Department of Internal Affairs how people facing serious criminal charges could be granted a passport.

In a written response, department services and access general manager Adrian Jarvis said the Passport Act 1992 generally provided a passport must be issued to every New Zealand citizen who applied for one unless an exception applied.

Jarvis said a section of the Act allowed a passport application to be refused if the applicant was on bail.

“How this works in practice is that the Department of Internal Affairs is notified of any court orders, and an alert is put on the person’s record preventing a passport from being issued.”

The Department of Internal Affairs can put an alert on people's records preventing them from being granted a passport. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Department of Internal Affairs can put an alert on people’s records preventing them from being granted a passport. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Jarvis said there was no court order in place when Josey’s passport was issued.

“We have since been notified of the conviction and applied appropriate alerts into the passports system.”

Jarvis said, speaking generally, applicants had to confirm they had read the section regarding bail and declare they were “…not subject to any of the matters listed in that section, that there is no court order, sentence, or other condition that may prevent the issue of a passport to me…”

Jarvis said it was an offence to provide false and misleading information on a passport application, carrying a maximum penalty of five years’ jail, a fine up to $15,000, or both if convicted.

Lee Josey assessed as ‘unlikely to leave’ – police

A police spokesperson said in response to questions border alerts were not put on people if they had no known overseas links and it was unusual for them to leave the country.

“In this case, a risk assessment was conducted at the time he was arrested and charged at which point it was believed he was unlikely to leave the country. His arrest also coincided with Covid-19 border closures.”

The spokesperson said: “We acknowledge in this instance preventative measures could have been implemented, to help prevent him from leaving the country.”

A Customs spokesperson said the organisation had robust systems to protect borders but travellers were not stopped unless they had border alerts or as part of routine screening procedures.

The spokesperson said departure card requirements when leaving New Zealand were removed in November 2018, so no false document declaration had occurred in Josey’s case.

Josey was convicted of four charges relating to one girl – including rape, two counts of indecent assault and committing an indecent act. He was further convicted of five charges relating to another teenager – including four of rape and one of committing sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection.

The trial lasted three days and the jury returned guilty verdicts on all nine counts the day it retired to deliberate.

Court documents supplied to the Rotorua Daily Post showed Josey had been drinking at a property where a teen was present.

He asked the teen to go for a walk because he said he needed to talk to her, a police summary of facts said. Josey, who was married, led her about 80m from the property.

He put his arms around her in a hug and started to kiss her but she told him to stop. She said she felt uncomfortable.

He continued to kiss her and she struggled but he was holding her arms down by her side in the hug position preventing her from getting her arms free, the summary said.

Lee Josey's trial was held in the Rotorua District Court in his absence. Photo / Andrew Warner
Lee Josey’s trial was held in the Rotorua District Court in his absence. Photo / Andrew Warner

He then raped her. The summary said she felt frozen and shocked and started to cry, telling him to stop. She tried to push him off her. She managed to get free and went back to the property.

A few months later, he saw the teen again and indecently assaulted her by placing his arms around her in a hug. He rubbed her arm and kissed her hand. She tried to stop him many times. She punched him and swore at him and he eventually stopped because she was yelling, the summary said.

On another occasion, the teen saw Josey doing an indecent act. When he saw her, he said: “It’s a good thing you are here”.

The five charges relating to the second complainant involved Josey sexually violating the girl once and raping her four times.

During this time, he offered her drugs and alcohol, which she refused. She accepted alcohol once and only drank two cans, the summary said.

The teen disclosed to her friend’s mother what happened and a complaint was made with police. She underwent a forensic medical examination and swabs were taken for DNA purposes.

ESR analysis later confirmed Josey’s DNA was present on the swabs.

Josey told police he did not have any sexual contact with the teen.

Kelly Makiha is a senior journalist who has reported for the Rotorua Daily Post for more than 25 years, covering mainly police, court, human interest and social issues.

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