Special Report: Rapist couldn't break habit

By Sandra Conchie - Court Reporter

A rapist who spent 19 years in a Brisbane jail has popped up in Tauranga, where he's embarked on a violent crime spree so haunting his victims have fled overseas.

Peter Thomas Stirling couldn't break the crime habit.

The 46-year-old convicted rapist and infamous prison escapee, who was deported back to New Zealand in 2007 after 19 years in a Brisbane jail, is back behind bars.

He was jailed for four years in Tauranga District Court on Thursday for another spate of violent crimes, including the knifepoint robbery of a Gate Pa man.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

Stirling stole the man's car on August 20 last year and threatened to return to stab his victim if he told police. Stirling had earlier tried to kick his way into the home of the victim and his wife.

Stirling crashed the victim's car during a high speed police pursuit and ran off.

Shortly after, he tried to steal another man's car after confronting him with a large wooden stake. The second victim managed to escape.

Stirling's principal victims were left so traumatised they have fled to the Sunshine Coast.

Stirling was sentenced in Tauranga District Court this week after earlier pleading guilty to charges of aggravated robbery, threatening to kill and demands with menaces to steal.

Charges of reckless driving and failing to stop were dealt with at an earlier court appearance.

Officer-in-charge of the case Tauranga Detective Constable Matt Valentine said he did not wish to talk extensively about Stirling's Australian convictions but he was amazed when he went digging and learned more about his violent criminal history.

"It was of concern to police that a man with such a violent past was living in Tauranga and went on to commit such serious offences," he said.

But Mr Valentine said it was not surprising that Stirling, a boilermaker by trade, reverted to form after losing his job.

"He's really been institutionalised and seems to have come back to New Zealand without any support networks or appropriate oversights which is also a big concern. It seems he's been lost in the cracks," he said.


Stirling's criminal past hit the headlines on Melbourne Cup Day on November 4, 1997.

Media reports from across the Tasman reveal that in the early hours of the morning, Stirling, then aged 31, and four other maximum security prisoners including three murderers, broke out of Sir David Longland Correctional Facility.

Sun Herald reporters described it as "the most meticulous and brazen prison break" and several papers labelled it the "most sensational mass escape in Australian prison history".

According to the Sydney Morning Herald , Stirling went on the run with notorious armed robber Brendan Abbott, 32, and murderers Oliver Alincic, 32, Jason Nixon, 27, and Andrew Jeffrey, 20, after "cutting their way to freedom".

The escapees, described by police "as the most dangerous people in Australia", managed to escape with help from a handful of outsiders.

Sun Herald reporters wrote that Abbott, "renowned as one of Australia's smartest and cheekiest criminals", used a length of diamond-encrusted "angel wire" smuggled into the prison to cut his way through a bar of his cell window.

"Abbott, 32, his hips and shoulders smeared with soap, squeezed through the gap and, with Jeffrey and the other convicted murders, as well as rapist and kidnapper Peter Sterling (sic), used chairs to jump a metre-high thicket of razor wire."

After using a makeshift ladder, they made their way to the perimeter fence where accomplices were waiting who lobbed bolt cutters and a gun across the fence

Reuters Brisbane wrote that "using the cover of fire, the prisoners managed to cut through the fences" and with prison guards "'pinned down by volley of gunfire, with several shots piercing an armour-plated prison van patrolling the jail", the prisoners fled in a waiting car.

A police pursuit ensued during which officers were also fired upon but Stirling and his criminal cohorts managed to "avoid a huge dragnet of more than 150 police" as they fled.

Sun Herald reported that Stirling was the first to be caught.

"Two days after the breakout, he crossed the New South Wales border and headed for Tweed Heads and Number Thirteen brothel." One of the prostitutes took him back to her home and police received a tipoff and closed in. Police surrounded the house and moved in, arresting Stirling who was armed with a .22 calibre firearm but he "surrendered quietly".


The Gate Pa couple who were victims of Stirling's knifepoint robbery did not know him when he turned up at their door on the evening of August 20 last year.

After a conversation with the male victim, Stirling who was strung out on P, went on to subject the couple to a harrowing ordeal.

The police summary of facts revealed that about 10.30pm Stirling was with an associate in McClymont Place, Gate Pa, and on learning about an altercation between the associate and a woman, he turned up at the couple's house (in what is believed to be a case of mistaken identity).

After a brief conversation with the man who answered the door, Stirling told the victim that if he took him to the Marble Bar at Gate Pa, it would be the last the victim would see of him.

The terrified victim drove Stirling almost 1km to the bar but soon realised it was closed.

On the way back to the house Stirling discreetly placed surgical gloves on his hands, and when they pulled back into the man's street he asked the victim if he had any money or a wallet on him.

When the victim replied no and stopped the car, he noticed that Stirling was holding a large 20cm double-edged serrated butcher's knife in his left hand.

While gesturing to stab the victim in his stomach, Stirling stated: "If you don't give me your money or wallet I will take your car. If you don't do as I say you will wear the knife".

Fearing for his life, the victim jumped out of the car, slammed the driver's door, ran inside and locked the front door. Stirling chased after him and tried to kick his way inside.

Stirling yelled at his victim and his wife, warning the man if he called police he would return and stab him. He then made a throat cutting gesture to the victim.

Stirling drove off in the man's Honda vehicle, valued at $14,000. He was seen by a police patrol car travelling at speed without headlights on.

The patrol vehicle pulled in behind Stirling and signalled for him to stop but he sped off, turning into Kent Street then Cameron Road, heading towards the Tauranga CBD travelling at 140km/h.

As Stirling approached the Gate Pa School area, he lost control and the vehicle crashed into a steel power pole outside the school.

Stirling ran from the vehicle back to McClymont Place where he entered another property.

 He confronted a second victim who had just pulled into his driveway.

While holding a stake Stirling approached the male driver's window and told the man to "Get the **** out of your car, I want your car".

Fearing for his safety, the man immediately reversed his car and sped away.

Stirling ran off but he was located by police a short time later.

He told police he was high on methamphetamine at the time.


Lawyer Tony Rickard-Simms said Stirling was in prison in Australia from age 22 to 41, and felt he was left "high and dry" when deported back to New Zealand. Mr Rickard-Simms told Judge Peter Rollo in Tauranga District Court on Thursday Stirling had struggled to cope with life on the outside .

"While he managed to get himself fit, got himself a job which he held down for two years and kept a relationship going, when he lost his job a number of pressures got on top of him. He appears to have had some sort of breakdown and ended up taking drugs again and reoffended."

 Judge Rollo reassured Stirling he would immediately be seen by a psychologist when he arrived at prison who would refer him to any counselling he needed.

 Judge Rollo said it was not surprising that Stirling had a difficult time adjusting after such a long time in prison and under pressure had "reverted back to form", turning to P and violence.

Judge Rollo urged Stirling to spend his time in prison focused on his rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.

 Stirling told Judge Rollo that he had taken on board what he had told him.

"But I have been disadvantaged before I have even started my sentence as the prison authorities have taken into account my Australian history and used it against me. "




- Bay of Plenty Times

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