Inquiry clears Corrections of responsibility for Blessie Gotingco's death

Blessie Gotingco (Supplied)
Blessie Gotingco (Supplied)

An inquiry has cleared the Department of Corrections of any responsibility for the death of Auckland woman Blessie Gotingco, leaving her family "devastated".

Ms Gotingco was brutally raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender who was under the department's watch.

Tony Douglas Robertson, who'd been out of jail less than six months, was under Corrections supervision and still subject to extensive release conditions, including GPS monitoring, when he attacked Ms Gotingco as she walked home on a May evening almost two years ago.

A Government-ordered inquiry into Robertson's time in jail and the way he was managed on his release concludes that, "Robertson and only Robertson can be held responsible for what happened to Ms Gotingco."

The 56-year-old mother of three caught the bus home from her work in Auckland's CBD on May 24, 2014, but never made it home. Robertson, a convicted child abductor and sex offender, ran her down in his BMW just metres from her home; he raped her, cut her throat and stabbed her multiple times before killing her.

Robertson breached his release conditions at least twice before murdering Ms Gotingco.

The 29-year-old had served eight years for snatching a five-year-old off the street near a Tauranga school and subjecting her to indecent acts in 2005. He'd earlier tried to abduct three other children.

Inquiry head Mel Smith says the report into Robertson's management inside jail and out "traversed the terms of reference assiduously and comprehensively".

"I have not found that any failings or deficiencies in the systems or practices in the management of Robertson following his release from prison provided any opportunity for the murder of Ms Gotingco."

However, the inquiry does identify shortcomings in Corrections and police procedures and makes 27 recommendations aimed at improving the management of high risk offenders like Robertson.

The report concludes Corrections "did not make efforts sufficiently early" in Robertson's sentence to get him into rehabilitation programmes.

Inquiry clears Corrections of responsibility for Blessie Gotingco's death

Tony Robertson (Newshub.)

It finds the department should have begun Robertson's release planning sooner. The convicted sex offender had served his full sentence so was not on parole when he was freed on December 11, 2013, but he was subject to release conditions for six months.

Corrections successfully applied to the court for an extended supervision order that allowed for restrictions to be imposed on Robertson for up to 10 years, but that order wasn't due to come into force until after he'd raped and murdered Ms Gotingco.  

"Corrections had ample opportunity to assess and apply for an extended supervision order so that…it could have come into effect the day Robertson was released," the report says.

However the report says this would have made no material difference to the way Robertson was managed.

It also says Corrections should have asked the parole board to include a school hours residential restriction in Robertson's release conditions.  The child sex offender was living just over half a kilometre from a primary school when he got out of jail.     

"My family and I are both disappointed and devastated by the inquiry's findings," Ms Gotingco's husband told media in Auckland.

"Having reviewed the report and all the evidence at trial, we remain firmly of the view that the Department of Corrections' ineptitude enabled the evil killer to take our Blessie.

"It is glaringly obvious to us and the wider public that they do not have the capability to manage these high risk sex offenders, in fact I think the offenders manage them."

At the time he killed Ms Gotingco, Robertson was living in a Birkdale apartment his mother had leased for him as a last resort after an extensive search by Corrections failed to find him other suitable accommodation.  

Neither the neighbours in the cul-de-sac nor the local schools were told of Robertson's past, even though Corrections did consider notifying them.

The report says the way Corrections reached the decision not to tell residents was "inadequate", "unstructured" and "slow" and police and Corrections guidelines around notification were  "inconsistent and, in places, unclear".

The inquiry recommends a prison officer is dedicated to planning accommodation for high risk prisoners who are being released.  

Corrections also wrongly lowered Robertson's risk level from high to medium but, the report maintains, that made no practical difference to his management.

"Robertson's management after his release exceeded the mandatory standards. His management was careful, responsive, and based on assessed risk."

However, the inquiry finds in Robertson's case probation officers "did not complete risk assessments using all available tools" and it recommends greater support and training for those conducting assessments.

The report concludes Corrections "did not place undue reliance on electronic monitoring, instead employing a range of measures to monitor Robertson's compliance".

It says the GPS data led to Ms Gotingco's body being found dumped on a nearby cemetery and "the speedy arrest of Robertson".

Robertson was sentenced to preventive detention, meaning he will be behind bars indefinitely but will serve a minimum non parole period of a quarter of a century.