Admin issues derail murderer’s bid for release

A North Otago murderer and sex offender will remain in prison until next month after a series of administrative botches.

Anthony Phillip Hitchcock (65) was one of the first offenders in New Zealand to be sentenced to life imprisonment and preventive detention and has spent 25 years behind bars and undergone more than 300 counselling sessions.

In 1996, he used an axe to murder a 26-year-old woman, and then tried to rape her young daughter, which involved dragging her around her Oamaru home with a cord around her neck.

Both victims’ names are permanently suppressed.

Hitchcock committed the horrific attacks just two months after being released from prison, where he had been for earlier sex offences.

He was declined parole at his most recent hearing in March after his release plan was provided to the board just hours beforehand and a safety plan was non-existent.

"At 5 o’clock yesterday, we received the full individualised plan for Mr Hitchcock’s release ... As we have said to Corrections, it was far too late to provide this information to us today and expect us to spend time understanding the details of the plan and what was involved," board chairman Sir Ron Young said.

"The second difficulty was that the safety plan that we have assumed would be prepared and available for today’s hearing was not," he said.

"The case manager told us that she understood it would be prepared after Mr Hitchcock’s release. That is not acceptable to us. We would want to understand and see the safety plan before we would be prepared to consider releasing Mr Hitchcock. This is a vital piece of information for our risk assessment."

The killer spent a brief period outside prison following heart surgery several years ago, but staff became so worried about his "escalating and imminent risk" he was returned to jail.

Hitchcock was still considered as being at an above-average risk of sexual reoffending, and a low-moderate risk of violence.

The proposed accommodation to which he would be released on parole had a traffic-light system.

"Mr Hitchcock could begin ... on the red light. That would mean that he could not leave [the property] without staff and would have a very limited ability to leave the residence at all, even with staff members accompanying him," Sir Ron said.

It might be up to 18 months before the restrictions were relaxed.

The house had cameras and any attempt by Hitchcock to leave the premises would trigger an alarm.

"Those protections are a reassuring aspect of the release proposal," Sir Ron said.

Hitchcock will see the board again next month.

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