Inmate's wife can't be guard

By David Fisher

The Northland Region Corrections Facility where Lydia Butcher applied to work. Photo / APN
The Northland Region Corrections Facility where Lydia Butcher applied to work. Photo / APN

A woman has been given the go-ahead to sue the corrections department for refusing to employ her as a guard in the prison in which her husband was remanded.

Lydia Butcher wanted to work at the Northland Region Corrections Facility, a prison at Ngawha Springs near Kaikohe.

But her husband of 12 years, 38-year-old Carl Butcher, was sent there on remand for firearms and assault charges. When Department of Corrections bosses found out, they refused to hire her, saying she should have told them.

The case is headed for the Human Rights Review Tribunal after mediation over the issue failed. Robert Hesketh, the Director of Human Rights Proceedings, said the case was going ahead. "We are her lawyers," he added.

It is understood the foundation of the case against the department is that Lydia Butcher should not be discriminated against because of her husband's criminal behaviour.

The case will be argued before the tribunal, but the background lies in rural Northland and hinges on events near Dargaville in an area described by a lawyer involved as being "Deliverance country". The movie Deliverance featured the hillbilly inhabitants of the Georgia wilderness.

Carl and Lydia Butcher were directors of a company that ran a beef farm at Donnellys Crossing, about 30km outside Dargaville. The company failed and as liquidators moved in to seize property, Carl Butcher said he and his wife began looking for work.

Carl Butcher told the Herald on Sunday his wife had applied for work at the prison while he began moving some of the couple's property off the farm.

It was about the same period Carl Butcher had a brush with the law - and not his first. He already had firearm convictions after a 2006 incident.

Then, in 2007, police were called after Lydia Butcher ran to their neighbours in tears. She said Carl Butcher was "running around the farm with a gun and probably drunk". The neighbour called police after looking out the window and seeing Carl Butcher with what looked like a shotgun.

In 2009 the police charged Carl Butcher with hitting Lydia Butcher, in the belief the would-be prison guard was having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old neighbour. Carl Butcher knocked his wife to the ground then kicked her, according to a neighbour's witness statement. When she stood, he knocked her down again.

"It is then that Mr Butcher knelt on his wife and began to punch her in the head. The police case is there were between 10-15 punches to the head," said a judge.

Court papers show Lydia Butcher later claimed there was no assault - a statement the trial judge said must have sounded like perjury to the jury. She had told the court she had a "fall in the milking shed" that led to injuries the judge described as substantial.

Carl Butcher said it was while he was in prison awaiting trial that his wife was told she could not work for the Department of Corrections. It is understood the Department of Corrections claimed Lydia Butcher never declared the conflict of interest.

Carl Butcher said his wife had taken the case to the Human Rights Commission at his urging: "You can't go around victimising people because their husband is a something-or-other."

He confirmed he pleaded guilty to the assault and firearms charges but only to get home and look after his kids. Lydia Butcher had left to find work in Australia, first driving trucks and now heading for the mines. Carl Butcher and their children intended to join her.

Corrections human resources manager Vince Arbuckle would not discuss the specific case but, speaking generally, said "the public expect the highest standards of integrity and behaviour".

The employment application form used by the department and obtained by the Herald on Sunday specifically urges applicants to declare connections to anyone involved in criminal activity.

The form also stated a failure to declare potential conflicts could result in being turned down for a job.

- Herald on Sunday

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