North Otago murderer not fit to be released

After 25 years in prison and 336 counselling sessions, a North Otago killer is still not fit for release, the Parole Board says.

But Anthony Phillip Hitchcock — one of the first in New Zealand to be sentenced to life imprisonment and preventive detention — will make a renewed bid for freedom in March.

The short turnaround between parole hearings has friends and family of his victim concerned the prisoner’s release is imminent.

"I think it would be a massive risk," said a friend of the victim, who spoke to the Otago Daily Times on condition of anonymity.

"He’ll do it again, I guarantee it."

At Hitchcock’s sentencing in December 1996, the court heard how 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 horrifying crimes just two months after being released from prison, a sentence he received for sexual offending.

In November, the Parole Board heard that despite hundreds of counselling sessions, the prisoner was still regarded as a medium-high risk of sexual and violent reoffending.

The murder victim’s sister said that alone should prove Hitchcock was unfit for release, and she planned to argue precisely that point before the board in March.

"Nothing has changed," she said.

"It’s certainly wrecked our family ... It’s always in our minds. It’s never going to go away."

Hitchcock undertook intensive sex-offender rehabilitation in 2015 but board chairman Sir Ron Young noted his behaviour was described as concerning and aggressive.

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 told the board at his last appearance that he had worked hard over the past six years and had a good reputation behind bars.

He had completed seven guided releases and he argued he should be released to a facility, the name of which was withheld in documents released to the ODT.

"The letter we have [from providers] suggested that there was a bespoke programme that had been prepared for him to deal with his particular risks," said Sir Ron.

"We have not seen such a programme and therefore have no idea of its content."

Understanding the specific arrangements was crucial and Sir Ron asked for the information to be provided to the Parole Board before the March hearing.

For the friend of the murdered woman, Hitchcock’s release remained unthinkable.

"This isn’t revenge. I’m not a vengeful person, but I’m for justice. Life should mean life."

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