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Government funded escape artist Philip Smith found guilty

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  • Government funded escape artist Philip Smith found guilty

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    The murderer who embarrassed New Zealand law and border authorities by flying to Brazil while on temporary release from prison has been convicted for the audacious escape. Charges of escaping lawful custody and making a false statement to renew a passport have been added to Phillip John Smith's lengthy criminal record, along with murder, child sex abuse, kidnapping, tax fraud and arson.

    In an unusual legal procedure, a jury was chosen at the Auckland District Court today and the judge immediately directed the 12 men and women to find Smith guilty. Because Smith did not admit his guilt, this will allow him to pursue Brazilian authorities for what he claims was an unlawful deportation when his bid for freedom ended in a backpackers hostel in Rio de Janeiro.

    The failings within the justice system that allowed Smith's flight from New Zealand while still a prisoner follow a myriad errors of judgement that allowed him to continue offending in the first place. Smith is serving a life sentence for murdering the father of a boy he sexually abused and is unable to seek parole again until next year.

    He was granted bail after he appealed to the High Court, despite having 20 previous convictions including attempting to pervert the course of justice by intimidating witnesses in a previous case by threatening to firebomb them.
    Two weeks later Smith was behind bars again, charged with extortion. He had been blackmailing a West Auckland man who later committed suicide. Near his body police found a letter from Smith, demanding $25,000 or he would publicly disclose allegations of sexual offending involving the man.

    But after appearing in court on that charge, Smith escaped police custody. He was recaptured - and eventually bailed again. A condition of his bail was that he not contact the 13-year-old or even attempt to trace the family.
    The warning fell on deaf ears.

    On December 11, 1995 Smith was driven from Carterton to the family's new home. He crept into their back yard, where he lay in wait for three hours armed with a hunting knife and a rifle he had hidden near the home a week earlier. He got into the house and the 13-year-old woke to find him standing over his bed. His screams woke his parents, and his father ran to the room. Smith stabbed him repeatedly.

    The 13-year-old escaped and ran to the closest police station for help. Smith then took the boy's mother and brother from the house at gunpoint, refusing to let the woman tend to her dying husband. He was arrested soon after for murder. At his trial in the High Court at Wellington, a jury heard that police found a "blueprint for murder" in Smith's bedroom.

    Dubbed "Operation Smith", police described it as a "Rambo-style plan" to kill his former neighbours.
    His conviction for the murder and prolonged sexual abuse did not stop him tormenting the family. Smith called their home phone four times from prison, making threats.

    In November 2014, Smith made headlines around the world when he walked out of Spring Hill Prison in while on a 74 hour temporary release and boarded a flight to Chile.His escape was enabled by a lack of information sharing and a string of blunders by agencies, according to a critical Government inquiry, including:

    From inside prison, Smith was able to renew his passport with DIA under his birth name of Phillip John Traynor.
    Corrections did not check with Smith's nominated sponsor for the temporary release. He was unaware Smith was supposed to be staying with him.
    Police checked the wrong address, twice.
    His criminal record was under the Smith identity -which was never his official name- so no red flags were raised at Auckland International Airport.
    Despite discovering Smith was not with his sponsor, Corrections did not officially alert police until the temporary release period ended.
    Police did not make an urgent request to Interpol, so no one realised Smith used the Traynor passport until the next day - four days after he left the country.

    By this time, Smith had made his way from Santiago Chile to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.His only mistake, was staying a hostel popular with English speaking tourists where a fellow backpacker recognised him from his appearance on television news reports and tipped off the Brazilian police.He was arrested in the Cidade Maravilhosa Hostel in Rio de Janeiro and eventually deported back to New Zealand.

    In anther severe embarrassment to government agencies it was also revealed that Smith funded his escape from New Zealand by ripping off the Inland Revenue Department. While serving his murder sentence, he made false Working for Families tax credit claims to the IRD using other prisoners' names and received more than $40,000 between 2007 to 2010 before the tax fraud came to light.
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