Killer’s death raises questions

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. PHOTO: CHRISTINE O’CONNOR
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 Amber-Rose 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 Amber-Rose’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 Amber-Rose 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 Amber-Rose.

The witness was vigorously cross-examined 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.

Where to get help

Suicide/depression related

• Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
• Depression healthline: 0800 611 116
• Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800 543 354
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
• Samaritans: 0800 726 666
• Alcohol Drug Helpline: 0800 787 797
• General mental health inquiries: 0800 44 33 66
• The Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757

— Additional reporting Rob Kidd

daisy.hudson@odt.co.nz

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