Phillip Smith report prompts shake-up

  • 02/10/2015
Phillip Smith (File)
Phillip Smith (File)

By Sarah Robson

There will be a shake-up of the way government agencies share information following the damning findings of a report into how a convicted murderer and child molester was able to flee the country.

Phillip John Smith was on temporary release from Spring Hill prison when he managed to board a flight to South America in November last year, sparking an international manhunt.

A 149-page report, released yesterday, detailed a litany of shortcomings across several government agencies that ultimately led to Smith's escape.

It highlighted the need for a "step change" when it comes to information sharing between government agencies.

The Department of Internal Affairs, which issues passports, had no systems in place to alert it to the fact Smith's passport application – which he made under his birth name Traynor – came from a serving prisoner.

Once Smith got to the airport, there was nothing loaded into Customs' border alert system under any of his names, so he wasn't picked up.

Justice Minister Amy Adams is promising action to ensure there isn't a repeat.

"As a country we've become very fixated on not sharing information overly and I think that's gone too far," she told reporters.

"There should be a system under which law enforcement agencies, in particular, can have reasonably open access to the sort of information they need to hold offenders to account."

Ms Adams wants to work on implementing the report's recommendations around better information sharing systems as quickly as possible, but she says some of them will require law changes.

"We cannot have a system that can be defeated by simply assuming another identity," she said.

"What's clear to me is simply relying on a name record – which has been shown now on a number of occasions to not be a fail-safe process – is not enough and access to photographs, biometric information and fingerprints is going to be a crucial part of ensuring high-risk offenders are properly tracked."

Smith was jailed in 1996 for at least 13 years for murdering the father of a 12-year-old Wellington boy he had been molesting, while on bail on the child molestation charges.

He faces charges of escaping custody and of false representation in relation to obtaining his passport.

NZN