Phillip John Smith was temporarily released from Spring Hill prison, pictured, but failed to return. Photo / Herald, NZ Police
Phillip John Smith was temporarily released from Spring Hill prison, pictured, but failed to return. Photo / Herald, NZ Police

Killer Phillip Smith has 'fled NZ on fake passport'

UPDATE:  Smith, 40, was temporarily released for three nights from Springhill Prison near Huntly on Thursday.

Police have been hunting for him ever since he failed to arrive at the address of a family member in Waterview, Auckland, where he was supposed to stay.

A relative of one of his victims said they were frightened and "devastated" to hear that Smith was on the run.

She told Radio New Zealand some members of the family had gone in to police protection.

"My family is frightened, they're not in a good space at all. We just want him caught and this should never have happened, never. I've spoken to one of my family who has been put in protection. They're extremely worried, this has upset their whole life yet again... it's not right."

She said the family member Smith abused was not in New Zealand, but was aware Smith was on the run. "He's obviously very worried about everybody."

She had serious questions for the Department of Corrections. "I want to know who is responsible for letting him out like this," she said.

Corrections explains his release

National commissioner of corrections Jeremy Lightfoot told Radio New Zealand Smith was to be supervised by a family member.

"I can see why this is so concerning for people, he's clearly a manipulative individual."

Smith had served the punitive part of his sentence.

The Department of Corrections made contact with Smith's family member on Saturday afternoon and found that Smith wasn't at the address.

Mr Lightfoot apologised for not notifying the family of Smith's victim that Smith was on the run for a further 12 hours.

"Clearly it's not an acceptable time period on reflection," Mr Lightfoot said.

Mr Lightfoot said the three-day release was part of a plan to ready Smith for his next Parole Board hearing next year.

Police: Don't approach him

Police said Smith is considered dangerous and should not be approached.

He wears glasses but may attempt to change his appearance, police said.

He is known to have purchased and wear wigs.

Detective Inspector Chris Cahill of the Auckland City CIB said, since being notified, a considerable number of inquiries and activities were carried out by Police staff across several districts in an effort to try and locate Smith.

"We are working closely with several other agencies on this.

"He officially became an abscondee as soon as he did not return to prison by 9am on Sunday morning."

The murder that landed him in jail

Smith is serving a life sentence of imprisonment for the brutal murder of a 35-year-old man, whose name is suppressed, in Wellington in 1995.

He was also sentenced for serious sexual offending against the victim's older son, for the aggravated burglary of the family home and for kidnapping the victim's wife and younger son.

Smith's most recent appearance before the parole board was in March this year.

Mr Lightfoot said while he was declined parole, he was approved for overnight temporary release. Since March, he had completed five three-night temporary release stints.

In the 12 months before his March parole board hearing, he had successfully completed six one-day temporary release stints.

What the Parole Board said about reoffending
The Parole Board refused Smith parole in March this year, saying he remained an undue risk to the safety of the community.

The board, led by convenor Warwick Gendall QC, said Smith was found to have a risk of general reoffending after a psychologist's report.

The board's decision said a psychologist's report was favourable of Smith's behaviour in recent years, but the board wasn't satisfied.

"We are not satisfied that Mr Smith has put his anti-social traits behind him completely."

The board said Smith was making good progress in terms of his temporary releases and "engaging with his circle of support".

Smith had not been approved for self care or release to work, which the board considered the "necessary pathway for an offender who has committed horrendous, violent and serious crimes such as his".

The board agreed with a psychologist's suggestion that he would benefit from overnight temporary releases.

"In our view it would be premature to grant parole now," the board said.

It is now highly unlikely Smith will be permitted for temporary release again, Mr Lightfoot said. He will also be facing further charges.

Anyone who knew where Smith was or had information relating to his activities should contact police on 111, Ms Hegarty said.

- NZ Herald

Read more by Teuila Fuatai, Sophie Ryan 



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