Martin Lyall. Photo / Supplied
Martin Lyall. Photo / Supplied NZ Herald

Victim 'bumped into' the man who stabbed him in supermarket

A MENTAL health patient charged with murder after a stabbing rampage was released from a psychiatric unit and was living back in the same community for two years before his victims or police found out.

One victim learned of his release three weeks ago when he "bumped into him" at his local West Auckland supermarket.

A police officer involved in the case found out in almost identical circumstances and the children of the murdered man only found out their father's killer had been freed this week.

In 2005 Martin Robert Lyall fatally stabbed 65-year-old Kevan Newman in central Henderson. He also stabbed fishing shop owner Bob Norcross and assaulted a police officer attempting to arrest him. He was eventually shot during a stand-off with armed police.

He was charged with murder, attempted murder, wounding with intent and aggravated assault but was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial.

He was remanded to the Mason Clinic, a forensic psychiatric facility, as a special patient - meaning the only person who could authorise his release was the national director of mental health.

In May 2013 Lyall was approved for unescorted ground leave. He is now living in Henderson six days at a house run by a mental health service, and returns to the clinic once a week.

Outside a daily curfew, he is unsupervised.

Aside from a letter sent to Mr Newman's son in 2013 - which was sent to an incorrect address and never reached him - none of his victims or police were aware he was out.

That all changed this month when Mr Norcross spotted him during a routine trip to the supermarket.

"I bumped into him. I thought I saw him and then I thought 'it bloody can't be him ... can it be?'" Mr Norcross told the Weekend Herald.

"A local police officer who was looking at the case rang me to see whether I knew if Martin Lyall had been released. I said no, not officially. They found out the same way I found out."

Mr Norcross was "gutted" that he wasn't told directly. He believed the Waitemata District Health Board, which runs the Mason Clinic, had a duty to tell victims - or at the very least, police.

"It's a poor show that they didn't at least contact the authorities to say 'this is what's happening'.

"It's not up to us to decide if he's fit to release - but it's a basic right for us to know. I'm not persecuting Martin Lyall - if he is well enough then that's great. Mental illness is a horrible thing. If I'm hosed off at anybody it's the mental health people for not being respectful and professional in their duty."

After Weekend Herald inquiries the district health board called Mr Newman's son to see if he'd received the 2013 notification letter.

He had not. His sister Lisa Newman said no one had contacted her family regarding Lyall since he was remanded. "This has come as a bit of a shock to us," she said.

"It is unforgivable. I just don't understand how such little regard can be shown for the victims of such a vicious crime. For them not to even tell police ... if there is no responsibility for them to even do that, then there bloody well ought to be.

"This is a man responsible for the brutal death of another person. It's basic courtesy."

Mason Clinic clinical director Dr Jeremy Skipworth said the health board took its victim notification responsibilities "very seriously".

When forensic mental health patients are approved for unescorted leave from hospital, registered victims must be notified beforehand.

Mr Newman's son was the only formally registered victim.

"We did not hear back from the registered victim. This is not unusual in such situations as existing legislation only provides for the mental health service to inform the registered victim of a decision already made," Dr Skipworth said.

Investigations revealed that the address for Mr Newman's son, supplied by police, was incorrect, listing the right street but the wrong city.

"Regardless of where the original error may have been made, I appreciate that the registered victim feels let down and I have apologised for the fact that this has occurred," said Dr Skipworth. "In light of this incident, the Ministry of Health has initiated work to ensure that the contact details of registered victims are accurate.

"They will involve police and Corrections as necessary, and then advise WDHB so that our records can be modified if indicated.

"The process governing notifications to victims is currently under review and I have provided feedback to the Ministry of Health that, if adopted, would give a stronger voice and greater weight to victims in the decision-making process."

Police confirmed they had provided the wrong address to the health board but could not comment on the specifics of Lyall's case.

Police would not comment on Martin Lyall's release, but a number of sources told the Weekend Herald that officers were concerned about not being notified that he was returning to Henderson.

It is understood some police are concerned that he could reoffend and poses a risk to the community.

The 2005 murder was the first time he'd faced a violence charge, and he has not come to police attention since his release.

But the Weekend Herald has learned frontline staff in West Auckland have been told about his release and his criminal history.

Detective Inspector John Sutton could not comment on Lyall's history or his current status. "As the individual is a patient under the care of the Mental Health Act, there was no formal obligation for the DHB to notify police of his release into the community."

He would not be drawn on exactly what staff had been told about Lyall or whether they were undertaking any sort of monitoring.

Mason Clinic clinical director Dr Jeremy Skipworth said police were only alerted about the release of patients "when their involvement is required or anticipated".

"Neither of which were the case in this instance," he said.

"[Lyall] continues to be under the care of our mental health services. He is now receiving care both at Mason Clinic and at a supervised community accommodation facility where he spends some time each week.

"The release of all special patients is a carefully managed process, including ongoing assessments of risk, which incorporate past offending details, current mental health issues and responses to treatment."

- NZ Herald

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