Phillip Smith sues Department of Corrections for removing toupee

A convicted murderer and child sex offender is suing the Department of Corrections for a breach of his human rights after prison authorities refused to let him wear a toupee.

Phillip Smith was given a life sentence in 1996 for the murder of the father of a 12-year-old Wellington boy he had molested.

In 2014 Smith escaped and fled to South America before being returned to New Zealand.

Representing himself in court, a balding Smith told the judge prison authorities had breached his human rights when they took away his hairpiece after he was returned to the country in 2014.

He said the removal of his hairpiece had left him feeling humiliated, degraded and belittled. 

The defence acting for the Department of Corrections said it was very simple - because he had escaped and fled to South America, his security clearance was reclassified to maximum.

The department says that was because Smith now posed a high risk of escape. It added the toupee had been part of his disguise when he left the country, and there was also a concern the prisoner could conceal items underneath the hairpiece.

Smith is seeking $5000 in damages and the return of his toupee.