NZ CHILD KILLER WINS TOUPEE BAT­TLE

He says au­thor­i­ties breached his rights by con­fis­cat­ing wig used to im­prove his self-con­fi­dence

New Straits Times - - World -

WELLING­TON

ACONVICTED mur­derer and child mo­lester in New Zealand won a suit y e s t e r d a y, a r g u i n g prison au­thor­i­ties breached his rights by con­fis­cat­ing a toupee he used to dis­guise him­self when flee­ing the coun­try.

Phillip John Smith fled to Brazil in Novem­ber 2014 while on tem­po­rary re­lease from Auck­land Prison.

At the time, he was sport­ing a hair­piece he had been given per­mis­sion to wear two years ear­lier “to im­prove his self es­teem”.

When he was re­cap­tured and re­turned to New Zealand three weeks later, the wig was con­fis­cated and im­ages of Smith’s bald pate were splashed across the me­dia when he ap­peared i n court.

“I felt be­lit­tled, de­graded and hu­mil­i­ated,” he told the High Court ear­lier this month.

Smith was sen­tenced to life in 1996 for sex­u­ally abus­ing a boy over a three-year pe­riod, then track­ing down his vic­tim af­ter his fam­ily fled to an­other city.

Smith broke into the fam­ily’s house and fa­tally stabbed the boy’s fa­ther as he tried to pro­tect his son.

The 42-year-old told the court the toupee was im­por­tant to his on­go­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion as he was ex­tremely sen­si­tive about his bald­ness.

Judge Ed­win Wylie ac­cepted Smith’s ar­gu­ment that the Cor­rec­tions Depart­ment failed to con­sider his rights when it seized the hair­piece.

“I have con­cluded that Mr Smith’s fun­da­men­tal right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion was ig­nored,” he said in a writ­ten judg­ment de­liv­ered yesterday.

“An im­por­tant right has been breached and the breach may be ma­te­rial.”

Vic­tims’ ad­vo­cate, Ruth Money, said the Smith case was “em­bar­rass­ing for New Zealand”.

“I have ab­so­lutely zero sympa- thy, he showed no sym­pa­thy for any of his vic­tims.”

Judge Wylie said free­dom of ex­pres­sion could in­clude a phys­i­cal act, such as wear­ing a wig, and Smith did not lose his fun­da­men­tal rights when he be­came a pris­oner.

Wylie rescinded the prison’s de­ci­sion to con­fis­cate the toupee but sus­pended it for two weeks to al­low au­thor­i­ties to make a fresh case.

He de­clined Smith’s ap­pli­ca­tion for NZ$5,000 (RM15,530) in dam­ages.

Wylie noted that Smith had de­nied he could smug­gle con­tra­band un­der the hair­piece be­cause the tape that fixed it to his head was trans­par­ent.

“He stated that there were other ben­e­fits, namely the pro­tec­tion of his scalp from sun ex­po­sure and the pre­ven­tion of heat loss through his head in win­ter,” the judge said.

Smith was on the verge of pa­role when he fled in 2014, but was given an ad­di­tional 33 months’ jail time for the Brazil es­cape. AFP

Phillip John Smith

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