Otago Daily Times

Calls for change after Skantha's death

- DAISY HUDSON daisy.hudson@odt.co.nz

THE sudden death in prison of Dunedin murderer Venod Skantha has sparked calls for an overhaul of court policy.

The former doctor, who murdered Dunedin teenager AmberRose Rush in 2018, died in a suspected suicide at the Otago Correction­s Facility, at Milburn, on Wednesday, just hours after learning his appeal bid had been tossed out.

The news came as a relief to AmberRose’s family, who said they could finally grieve.

However, her father, Shane Rush, said it was sad for

Skantha’s family.

‘‘We feel sorry for his parents, as they have now also lost a child and no parent should ever have to go down that road.’’

Skantha’s death has raised questions about how he was able to allegedly take his own life behind bars.

Otago Correction­s Facility prison director Lyndal Miles said Skantha was advised of the Court of Appeal’s decision in a telephone call from a representa­tive of his lawyer on Wednesday afternoon.

Correction­s was unaware of the decision, and the court did not routinely inform Correction­s of decisions that did not have an impact on the length of a prisoner’s sentence.

When staff were made aware of informatio­n that had the potential to affect a prisoner’s wellbeing, their policy was to carry out an assessment of the person’s risk.

‘‘Our thoughts are with the man’s family and friends. Other men in the unit and staff are being provided with support.’’

Correction­s Associatio­n president Alan Whitley said the courts should have to pass informatio­n about judgements to Correction­s, so staff could provide support.

There had been other instances in which inmates had received bad news and either attempted to take their own life, or had successful­ly taken their own life, before staff became aware, he said.

‘‘It’s really traumatic for staff . . . It’s one of the worst things you can deal with.’’

Mr Rush said it had been a hard, sad, and emotional road for the family, one that felt like it would go on forever.

Now, the family felt as if they could finally grieve, both for AmberRose and her mother Lisa Rush, who died suddenly four months after her daughter.

‘‘It is hard to accept that her killer won’t have to pay the price for his crimes but it is a relief to the family not to have to spend more of our lives being tortured with appeals and parole hearings.’’

He believed Skantha’s death was a sign of guilt and remorse.

The Crown’s star witness at the trial was a teenager who drove Skantha to the Corstorphi­ne home where he killed AmberRose.

The witness was vigorously crossexami­ned at the trial as the defence attempted to cast him as the killer.

The teen, who has permanent name suppressio­n, would not be drawn on how he felt about the prisoner’s death.

‘‘I don’t really want to disclose anything at the moment,’’ he said yesterday.

All deaths in custody are referred to the coroner for investigat­ion and determinat­ion of cause of death.

An investigat­ion will also be carried out by the independen­t Correction­s Inspectora­te.

Both the Ministry of Justice and Minister of Correction­s Kelvin Davis were unable to respond yesterday. — Additional reporting Rob Kidd

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 ?? PHOTO: CHRISTINE O’CONNOR ?? Venod Skantha at sentencing before the High Court at Dunedin in 2020.
PHOTO: CHRISTINE O’CONNOR Venod Skantha at sentencing before the High Court at Dunedin in 2020.

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