Phillip John Smith found guilty of prison escape

By Carolyne Meng-Yee

Phillip John Smith at Auckland International Airport before he boarded a flight to Chile. Photo / Supplied.
Phillip John Smith at Auckland International Airport before he boarded a flight to Chile. Photo / Supplied.

The murderer who embarrassed New Zealand law and border authorities by flying to Brazil while on temporary release from prison has been convicted for the audacious escape.

Charges of escaping lawful custody and making a false statement to renew a passport have been added to Phillip John Smith's lengthy criminal record, along with murder, child sex abuse, kidnapping, tax fraud and arson.

In an unusual legal procedure, a jury was chosen at the Auckland District Court today and the judge immediately directed the 12 men and women to find Smith guilty.

Because Smith did not admit his guilt, this will allow him to pursue Brazilian authorities for what he claims was an unlawful deportation when his bid for freedom ended in a backpackers' hostel in Rio de Janeiro.

The extra prison sentence of 33 months handed down today for the prison escape makes no difference to his immediate future: Smith is serving a life sentence for murdering the father of a boy he sexually abused and is unable to seek parole again until next year.

The 42-year-old hit headlines around the world when he walked out of Spring Hill Prison in November 2014 while on a 74-hour temporary release and boarded a flight to Chile.

Mugshot of Phillip John Smith released by police when he was on the run. Photo / Supplied.
Mugshot of Phillip John Smith released by police when he was on the run. Photo / Supplied.

His escape was enabled by a lack of information-sharing and a string of blunders by agencies, according to a critical Government inquiry, including:

• From inside prison, Smith was able to renew his passport under his birth name of Phillip John Traynor.

• Corrections did not check with Smith's nominated sponsor for the temporary release. He was unaware Smith was supposed to be staying with him.

• Police checked the wrong address, twice.

• His criminal record was under the Smith identity - which was never his official name - so no red flags were raised at Auckland International Airport.

• Despite discovering Smith was not with his sponsor, Corrections did not officially alert police until the temporary release period ended.

• Police did not make an urgent request to Interpol, so no one realised Smith used the Traynor passport until the next day - four days after he left the country.

By this time, Smith had made his way from Santiago, Chile, to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

His only mistake in the great escape, according to his lawyer Dr Tony Ellis, was staying in a hostel popular with English-speaking tourists.

A fellow backpacker recognised him from his appearance on television news reports and tipped off the Brazilian police.

Phillip John Smith was arrested in the Cidade Maravilhosa Hostel in Rio de Janeiro after a fellow backpacker recognised the fugitive. Photo / Supplied.
Phillip John Smith was arrested in the Cidade Maravilhosa Hostel in Rio de Janeiro after a fellow backpacker recognised the fugitive. Photo / Supplied.

He was arrested and eventually deported on immigration grounds back to New Zealand.

It wasn't the first time Smith has embarrassed government agencies from behind bars.

While serving his murder sentence, Smith made false Working for Families tax credit claims to the IRD using other prisoners' names. He received more than $40,000 between 2007 to 2010 before the tax fraud came to light.

Phillip John Smith in the dock at the Auckland District Court after being deported from Brazil. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Phillip John Smith in the dock at the Auckland District Court after being deported from Brazil. Photo / Dean Purcell.

The Great Escape

Thursday November 6, 2014
Smith was approved for 74 hours' temporary release from Spring Hill Prison and is picked up by sister Joanne Smith at 7.30am. Nine hours later, Smith departs on LAN Chile Flight 800 to Santiago under the Traynor passport and with $10,000 cash.

Sunday November 9
Smith fails to return by 9.30am deadline and alarm officially raised. Police notify Interpol but did not make an urgent request for a border alert.

Monday November 10
Interpol request followed up and realise Smith used his Traynor alias to leave the country.

November 12
Smith recognised at a hostel in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and arrested by local police.

November 29
Returned to New Zealand under police escort and appears in court.

July 22, 2016
Smith found guilty of escaping lawful custody and making false representation to renew passport.

- NZ Herald

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