A man with an "appalling" list of convictions has cut off his electronic bracelet and fled to Australia before he could face trial on sex charges.
The 42-year-old was due to go on trial in Greymouth this week but police told the judge they believed he was now in Sydney. They were trying to find him, but the trial had to be aborted on Monday.
Last night, police were unable to say how the man could have left New Zealand, and the Sensible Sentencing Trust decried the decision to grant him bail in the first place, saying it is time judges were held accountable for their decisions.
The bail decision was made by Judge Raoul Neave, who caused controversy last year when he sentenced financial analyst Guy Hallwright to community work and a driving ban for breaking the legs of a man he drove over.
The penalty sparked outrage, but the Solicitor-General decided not to appeal against it despite saying it was "undoubtedly lenient".
The Christchurch man facing sex charges - who cannot be named to protect the identity of his alleged victim, his daughter - was arrested in October 2011 and initially remanded in custody.
Last March, Judge Neave granted the electronic bail, despite "strenuous" opposition from the Crown.
At the bail hearing, the judge said the man had an "appalling" list of convictions, including 17 for family violence. Most of the offending occurred before 2000.
When he was granted electronic bail to an address in Pages Rd, Christchurch, Work and Income paid the $1500 bond and rent of $300 a week.
The latest charges relate to allegations he sexually abused his daughter over an eight-month period.
"If you step out of line by even a centimetre you will be back in custody smartly," Judge Neave warned the man.
Sensible Sentencing Trust spokeswoman Ruth Money said: "This is yet another example of Judge Neave making a questionable decision. We are outraged ... given the alleged offender's history and possible threat to public safety. How can Judge Neave say the accused's criminal history is 'appalling' and then reward him with bail?"
Ms Money said the trust's Christie's Law campaign would continue pushing for judges to be held accountable for their decisions.
The campaign was launched in honour of North Shore teenager Christie Marceau, killed by a youth who was on bail and facing charges relating to earlier offending against her.
Ms Money said that "in this case, now taxpayers' money is being used to chase an alleged offender who should not have been granted bail in the first place. This has just delayed the court process further, which is harmful for the victim."
Auckland University law expert Warren Brookbanks said there was no standard obligation for defendants to surrender passports. "If there is a flight risk they may well be required to. It's not always a condition of bail - but often it is when someone is seen as a risk of fleeing the country."
Professor Brookbanks said police might not have regarded the man as a flight risk because of the electronic bracelet. "Presumably for that reason they didn't take his passport; they must be regretting that now.''
He said the defendant must have figured he had enough time to cut the bracelet off and escape the country before the alarm was raised.
The Ministry of Justice says that each year, about 78,000 people spend time on bail.
Since 2006-07 there have been reports of 255 people absconding out of 1839 on electronic bail.
- Additional reporting: Greymouth Star