Friends and family fight for Tipene Halford's release following his rejailing over minor parole violation

When Tipene Halford was released from jail for murder in 2013 he did everything in his power to turn his life around.

He got a student loan, put himself through film school and became a camera operator.

But in 2016 he was recalled to prison for breaching his parole as a result of a serious charge for which he was later acquitted.

Five-and-a-half years later, he remains inside while his friend and family fight for his release.

Tipene Halford grew up in Auckland and is the eldest of five adopted children. His father Stephen Halford says he was a happy kid but as a teenager ended up hanging out in Queen Street in amusement arcades. Then when he was 19, Tipene and three others were found guilty of murdering Nicolas Clarkson at a cash machine in a robbery gone wrong. A key witness was given immunity from prosecution for their testimony.

Tipene has always maintained his innocence and his father believes him.

"I attended the court case and it was like, 'Where's your bloody evidence?'. I couldn't understand what the evidence was and I still can't," Stephen tells The Hui.

And there are grave concerns about his conviction.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which looks at miscarriages of justice, has looked at his case and now intends to investigate.

In the meantime, Tipene remains behind bars on a parole violation.

He was first released from prison for the murder, in 2013. Tipene then got a student loan, went to Southseas Film School and became a television camera operator.

Tanya Wheeler, an Auckland-based television and film director, hired him on several projects.

"He was really good at his job, he loved camerawork. When we had him on the film set, nothing was too much trouble. He proved himself," she tells The Hui.

But one night, three years after being released from jail, Tipene met up with his cousin for a quiet drink. They were heading back to their car when an altercation happened on the street between Tipene's cousin and another man.

The next day. Tipene went to the police station voluntarily to tell them what had happened and admit he was there. What happened next shocked his family and friends.

Despite Tipene's cousin maintaining he was the one to hit the person on the street, Tipene was charged with wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and was recalled to prison.

Tanya Wheeler, Tipene Halford, and Stephen Halford.
Tanya Wheeler, Tipene Halford, and Stephen Halford. Photo credit: The Hui

Thirteen months later, he was acquitted, but five-and-a-half years later he's still behind bars. That's because he was subject to a five-year alcohol ban and because he had voluntarily admitted having a drink with his cousin, his parole was revoked.

Tipene's father Steven maintains they thought Tipene couldn't drink for only six months and was unaware of the five-year alcohol ban.

Māori Justice reform advocate Julie Whaipooti says New Zealand is a country where we don't just imprison people for life - "they're meant to come back to us".

"And he could be seen as a success story, to be honest, because when he was released prior and he was contributing positively to the community, he was working, he was earning money."

Whaipooti says the fact he hadn't been managed back into the community is an indictment of the failure of our wider system and questioned whether his alcohol ban should have been for so long.

Tipene has been up for parole numerous times but the Parole Board has turned down his bid for release saying his rehabilitative treatment can't be successful if he won't accept his part in the murder and the subsequent recalls.

Wheeler, who is a friend of Tipene's, says it was made clear that if he "admitted his guilt", then he could go home.

"But he said he's happy to admit to things he did do. He said he's not an angel, but he's not prepared to say he killed a person when he didn't," she says.

In a statement, the Parole Board says it is not its role to determine whether a person is guilty or innocent or whether their sentence is long enough. 

The most important consideration is community safety. By law, the Board must decide that the offender does not pose an 'undue risk' to the safety of the community before parole can be granted.

Tipene will go before the Parole Board again on Friday.

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and NZ On Air.

Friends and family fight for Tipene Halford's release following his rejailing over minor parole violation