Special report: Report highlights other 'Robertsons'

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Tony Robertson's character is fundamentally deficient.
Tony Robertson's character is fundamentally deficient.

Blessie Gotingco's brutal murder at the hands of an offender who was living in her neighbourhood and subject to 24-hour GPS tracking sparked an independent inquiry. Its report, released yesterday, has cleared Corrections and Police of any major failings in relation to the monitoring of Tony Robertson. NZME reporter David Fisher looks into the findings.

Tony Robertson is a stone-cold killer and rapist who has never taken responsibility.

After he murdered Blessie Gotingco, he worked hard to avoid responsibility for doing so but the evidence was such that it must have been easy to banish "any reasonable doubt".

When the calls for the inquiry came, the question turned. It effectively asked: "Did somebody else enable Robertson to murder and rape through inaction or incompetence?"

A Government-ordered inquiry released yesterday by long-time public servant Mel Smith found "Robertson, and only Robertson, can be held responsible for what happened to Mrs Gotingco".

Robertson did what he did and no one else need shoulder the blame. Corrections and police staff did their jobs when it came to Robertson.

In this awful case, it all comes down to a young man whose character is fundamentally deficient due to a deviant and murderous streak which sets him apart from almost everyone else. Not everyone, though, because - as the inquiry reported - there are other Tony Robertsons out there.

There are currently 170 high risk offenders in the community under electronic monitoring. The Smith Inquiry says: "Robertson was one of about 30 high-risk offenders managed by Corrections in the Waitemata area in early 2014."

But Smith also identified a range of recommendations which, while they wouldn't have changed what Mrs Gotingco suffered, could collectively make a difference for someone else and possibly all of us in days or years to come.

He never admitted guilt

There were programmes Robertson could have participated in. He didn't because he refused to admit he had abducted and indecently assaulted a Tauranga child in 2005.

Offenders must admit they have an issue before it can be dealt with.

On the single occasion Robertson said he might take part in the sex offenders' programme, it was because it "might help" with the parole board. "I don't even need to do it," he said. "I'm not like that."

The inquiry found Corrections didn't capitalise on this possible opportunity, asking: "Was this a genuinely missed opportunity? or merely the words of someone intent on saying what the questioner wanted to hear?"

Robertson was found to be an inmate who would tell people what they want to hear. A psychologist warned of his propensity to "impression manage".

Robertson wanted out

Robertson's agreement to alcohol and drug counselling doesn't suggest there was a missed opportunity. It suggests he would do anything to get out of prison, which is effectively what he said when he agreed to alcohol and drug counselling.

"I don't need it, but I'm willing to do it to stay out of jail. I'd climb Mt Everest to stay out."

Robertson pledged to walk in the steps of one of our greatest New Zealanders but still refused to admit guilt in his 2005 offending. The Supreme Court labelled the case against him as "extremely strong" when it rejected one of his hopeless appeals. It said: "The verdicts, far from being unreasonable, were really inevitable on the basis of the evidence."

Robertson was considered for parole on four occasions. The board was confronted with an angry and violent young sex offender who refused to admit guilt in the face of overwhelming evidence. It kept him inside as long as it could.

Antonio Gotingco (second from left), husband to Blessie Gotingco, reads a statement to the media. Photo / Nick Reed
Antonio Gotingco (second from left), husband to Blessie Gotingco, reads a statement to the media. Photo / Nick Reed

Robertson knew when he was getting out, and it wasn't early.

He told the board: "I will do my time and go out on my statutory release date in December 2013."

What could have been done?

There were issues. Public Protection Orders keep the truly, extremely dangerous away from us for longer. PPOs did not come into being until seven months after Mrs Gotingco was killed.

The design of Auckland Prison at Paremoremo is another issue - it made it difficult for high-security inmates to access rehabilitation courses. Auckland Prison is a white elephant - out of step with any modern understanding of crime and punishment.

In Robertson's case, not even the best-built modern prison was going to get him to admit his guilt to then take part in treatment.

And yes, Corrections could have brought rehabilitative efforts to bear on Robertson earlier in his sentence. In fact, that is the approach now.

There were questions raised - and it appears to have been from the Gotingco family - as to why Robertson was not restricted to the confines of his home, or had a fulltime guard.

Smith found these issues arise around "known" risk, and the threat Robertson posed was to children based on previous offending. There was simply not enough information to trigger greater restrictions.

Gotingco family dismiss report

The Gotingco family, supported by former Sensible Sentencing Trust advocate Ruth Money, dismissed the report hours after it had been issued. Mr Gotingco said Corrections did not have the ability to manage high-risk criminals like Robertson.

Ms Money wanted to know why Robertson was allowed a car, and why he wasn't followed by someone every time he left his house.

These questions were asked and answered in Smith's report, which recommended funding and investment in systems which would - in totality - reduce the likelihood of reoffending by those released from prison.

Smith's thoughtful, considered report, understood the pressures on those who tried to manage the unmanageable, because that's what Robertson was when released from prison. Smith recognised the Gotingco family, and the community of those who knew her, for their loss.

Distress over murder

But Smith also wrote of meeting others including Corrections and police officers who were "significantly affected by Mrs Gotingco's murder". "When I interviewed these people during the inquiry, their distress about the death of Mrs Gotingco was palpable."

He noted that "criminal justice is complex and demanding". "It can be extremely stressful on those who work within it," he wrote.

It is understandable the Gotingco family would have wanted such an inquiry as this. When tragedy strikes a family, there is often a need to look for understanding as to why it happened.

It is also natural to seek an explanation for the tragedy.

Smith wrote: "For them, the inquiry's findings are not ultimately about matters of public administration but about their loss.

That loss, I have observed, affects them deeply and will undoubtedly continue to do so.

It goes without saying that nothing arising from this inquiry can undo the family's loss."

- NZME.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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