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Herald on Sunday Editorial: The beast must go somewhere

Serial sex offender Stewart Murray Wilson. Photo / Supplied
Serial sex offender Stewart Murray Wilson. Photo / Supplied

The people of Wanganui have reacted predictably to serial sex offender Stewart Murray Wilson being rehoused in their district. In the words of one man at a public meeting in which the fury of 300 people was directed at the Department of Corrections, they are angry at being used as "a dumping ground". The sense of grievance is all the more deep-seated because Wanganui has been selected partly because it had previously been spared the so-called Beast of Blenheim's deviant behaviour. That good fortune has been flipped on its head with the decision to place him in the grounds of Kaitoke Prison, 10km from the city.

Wilson's record provides ready grounds for the anger. He was jailed for 21 years in 1996 for 25 years of offending, which included six counts of rape, three of stupefying or attempting to stupefy, one of attempted rape, one of raping a girl under 14, one of bestiality, two of ill-treatment of children, two of assault on females, two of indecent assault on children, and four of indecent assault on women.

Significantly, he has continued to deny responsibility for his offending and refused treatment. One psychologist concluded he had psychopathic traits and was "evasive, litigious, solicitous, ingratiating, threatening and intimidating".

These characteristics led to successive parole hearings being told there was a high risk of Wilson reoffending if he was freed. Nonetheless, under the current law, he must be released on September 1.

The Parole Board has reacted by setting 17 conditions that strictly curtail where Wilson can go and with whom he can associate. Their stringency, as well as the obvious seriousness of the Department of Corrections' approach, should go some way to tempering the degree of trepidation in Wanganui.

Wilson will be one of the first parolees to be fitted with an ankle bracelet and continuously tracked by a GPS satellite. He will be unable to contact his victims, must seek permission before inviting females to his house, and cannot have contact with anyone under 16 without permission and supervision. The conditions also take note of Wilson's previous methods of contacting vulnerable women by prohibiting him from attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and church groups. A ban on internet use is intended to thwart a modern method for such contact.

The breadth of the conditions bears testimony to the time and effort brought to Wilson's case. So, too, does the Corrections' decision to buy a state house from Housing NZ and shift it to the relatively isolated grounds of Kaitoke Prison. The house will be outside the security perimeter but it will be closer to the prison than even its self-care units. The availability of that location must have gone a long way towards making Wanganui the most practical choice.

It is difficult to see what more could have been done to control Wilson and protect the public, save for having a minder with him 24 hours a day. As much is underlined by Wilson's decision to go to court to challenge the legality of the conditions. His lawyer likens them to placing his client under house arrest.

The conditions seem the strictest ever imposed. Unfortunately, Wilson's complaint makes people again wonder if he realises the uniqueness of his case, notably the horrific nature of his offending. A parole assessment report noted that he saw himself as "something special". The parole conditions reinforce that notion, if not as Wilson would have wanted.

There is, undoubtedly, a high chance he will want to reoffend. No city would willingly place itself in Wanganui's position. But as much as could reasonably have been expected has been done to make the risk more tolerable for its people.

And any number of officials now have their reputations at stake over whether they can protect the people of Wanganui from the beast.

- Herald on Sunday

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