David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

David Fisher: Tony Robertson 'a stone-cold killer' and rapist

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 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.

Video

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 5-year-old 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", while Corrections officers were alert to his manipulations.

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. 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."

And that was the target date -- the point at which there was no legal way to keep Robertson in jail and away from the rest of us.

Blessie Gotingco was killed and raped as she walked home in 2014. Photo / Supplied
Blessie Gotingco was killed and raped as she walked home in 2014. Photo / Supplied

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 full-time 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.

Electronic monitoring was found to be effective. There were those who told the inquiry it was not, but the weight of research counted against this claim.

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.

More funding to support Corrections staff, he said. More funding to support the Corrections and police to understand the risks posed by particular high risk offenders. More funding for accommodation for released prisoners. More funding for many, many areas of the prison system, from the point people begin their sentences through to the lives they will almost all eventually lead in our communities.

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.

Antonio Gotingco reads a statement at the North Shore Masonic Lodge in Albany. Photo / Nick Reed
Antonio Gotingco reads a statement at the North Shore Masonic Lodge in Albany. Photo / Nick Reed

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.

When people like Robertson are released into the community, we all shoulder that stress. But they will be released. Few stay locked up forever.

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 which equals the impact it has had.

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."

The one outcome they want is impossible -- Blessie Gotingco is gone forever. In this light, it is understandable the report is unsatisfactory.

Against the scale of such loss, it seems incomprehensible that an insignificance like Tony Robertson is alone responsible for her death.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

David Fisher started as a journalist in 1989 and has worked in community, provincial and national newspapers in New Zealand and abroad. He has won a number of journalism awards, twice been named New Zealand’s Reporter of the Year and been made a Press Fellow to Wolfson College at Cambridge University. PGP Key here.

Read more by David Fisher

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 30 Sep 2016 21:56:15 Processing Time: 644ms