The mother of a murdered teenager has offered qualified support for plans to reject "tough on crime" policies while speaking bravely and openly of her fear others will suffer as her family does.

Jacqui Miles' son Hayden was brutally murdered by Gavin John Gosnell, now 33, in 2011.

"He cut my child up into 12 pieces - I don't see how a normal person can do that and I don't think they should be out, ever."

Miles spoke to the NZ Herald after Minister of Justice Andrew Little said prison wasn't working and signalled imminent reform of the criminal justice sector.


She was approached for an interview after posting a comment to the NZ Herald Facebook page in response to Little's comments, saying her son's killer should never be released.

Miles said her instant concern about Little's plans for reform was it would lead to murderers like Gosnell getting let out early.

It's a fear Little has now addressed.

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Little had said 30 years of "tough on crime" policies had failed to make New Zealand a safer place.

He offered an assurance to Miles: "Whatever we do isn't going to change the sentences that people in prison have already been sentenced to.

"The safety of the community is paramount. That's why there are going to be people in prison still.

"But we know there are people in prison at the moment, that but for decent attention and therapeutic attention, can actually be turned around, returned to the community and not reoffend.

Little offered his condolences and praise to Miles, saying: "I cannot imagine as a parent what that must be like. It beggars belief.

Minister of Justice Andrew Little says 'tough on crime' policies haven't worked and its time to change.
Minister of Justice Andrew Little says 'tough on crime' policies haven't worked and its time to change.

"Good on her for being prepared to be part of the debate. It is tough on victims of crime."
Hayden's murder shocked New Zealand - the Christchurch teen was brutally beaten and then dismembered by Gosnell with a $20 jigsaw in an effort to hide his crime.

Gosnell was sentenced to serve 18 years without parole. If released, he would be subject to recall to prison for the rest of his life.

The sentencing judge described Gosnell as having a troubled background, having been estranged from his family and first going to prison aged 14. Before Hayden's murder, he had accrued 60 convictions which the judge described as "low-level violence".

A probation officer stated foremost among many issues was "a violent propensity coupled with alcohol and drug issues".

In general terms, Gosnell as a teenager seemed a match for the type of person Little was talking about approaching in a therapeutic way instead of through imprisonment.

Little said he wanted people in prison with issues such as those Gosnell had to "get treatment for those problems".

"Ideally you want them to get treatment for it the first time around in prison, not the umpteenth dozen time.

"It seems to me she and her family are victims of a system that wasn't prepared to deal with the pretty basic problems this person had that were part of the cause of his offending."

Miles said she didn't want to be seen offering any support for Gosnell and knew nothing of his background.

"I don't know and I don't really care. I'm the mother of a child who was murdered by him.

"I believe if there were other ways to help young people beforehand, yes - let's try that.

"But I also believe there are criminals now that, if they commit a very serious offence, they need to be kept in there to keep our communities safe."

When Gosnell's history was described, Miles was asked if Little's suggested approach might have made a difference. "I don't know," she said.

But - as long as it wasn't about Gosnell - Miles said she believed there was value in "fixing" - as Little called it -people who would otherwise become serious criminals.

"If they want to do more work on youth, that's great to help prevent things happenings. I'm all for that."

She said she could not conceive of such an effort expended on a murderer - especially Gosnell.

Police search a property in Christchurch during the hunt for Hayden Miles.
Police search a property in Christchurch during the hunt for Hayden Miles.

"I'm fair. If it is someone that can be rehabilitated (then do it). But not murder. If there is a way to help people who have done less serious crime - yes, if he can find a way to stop that happening and get them help, that's great.

"Do I agree with helping youth more, to try and help teenagers who are on the wrong tracks? Sure, I agree with that 100 per cent. To put more into that would be lovely.

"I do believe some people could be rehabilitated if they were less serious crimes but not someone who has done this sort of thing."

"The very serious crimes - we need to still have a good sentence for them so that people feel safe and they get their punishment.

"Why should they take a life and then get to come out? It's not fair and I don't believe you would think that should happen unless you had walked in my shoes. And if you did you would feel the same way."

Miles said after the trial that no sentence would be long enough for what Gosnell had done to her son.

She still holds that view, saying she had considered the death penalty for Gosnell but considered it to be an easy option.

"I actually wanted him to suffer more. Because he took a life so he has to live hell on Earth in prison.

"I think he'll be living hell on Earth and we have been living hell on Earth."

Miles said many of her concerns were driven by fears that killers - and particularly her son's murderer - were a risk to society when released.

Told murderers rarely killed again, she insisted there was a safety issue.

"When Andrew Little is saying these things, he hasn't got someone in prison that's killed his child. This is our world. This is our reality. We worry for the safety of other children, other people.

"We want to keep other children safe. We don't want the same thing happening to someone else and their family.

"I would be scared for other kids out there, that he might do this again. We can't take that risk in our communities."

University of Canterbury criminologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert said it was incredibly rare for someone who had served a sentence for murder to commit a second murder.

It had happened on only two occasions in New Zealand's history, he said.

Gilbert - who has been researching murder - said the age at which most murderers were released counted strongly against a second fatal episode. Once over the age of 50, violent assaults tapered off sharply, massively reducing any risk posed to the community.

University of Canterbury criminologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert:
University of Canterbury criminologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert: "There is never going to be a punishment that is enough for the victim."

It wasn't as simple as safety, said Miles. She said she also wanted to try and achieve some balance for what Gosnell had taken.

"I just feel that if someone does something bad like that they shouldn't ever be let out because Hayden doesn't get to live his life. That's how I feel.

"I really believe if someone murders a child, who would want them out? That's sick and evil. I don't want child killers out. I don't want to lose another child. That's my worst fear.

"You've been through it once. You know it's possible. You know there's bad people out there."

She said the loss of Hayden left a permanent gap. "You learn the most valuable lesson - that life is precious and you never take any of your children for granted.

"For me, I've chosen to be there for my other children and to appreciate them every day. I've learnt the hard way that life is a gift and your children are a gift."

Asked if, should Gosnell be eventually judged fit to release, she wanted him "broken or fixed", she said: "I just don't think you can fix someone with the capacity (to do) what he did, and especially what he did afterwards.

"I think that's a sick person. Would you like him around your children out on the streets? I'd be terrified this could happen again. I don't think he can be rehabilitated."

She said she believed there was a growing feeling of fear of crime in the community. "You just hear more about things that are happening."

The newly released Criminal Justice textbook for universities, edited by Gilbert and fellow criminologist Dr Greg Newbold, pointed to media reporting of crime having an inequal focus on violent offending even though it represented a fraction of all crimes. The book also quoted research that media reporting focused on rare and unusual crimes, rather than those typically committed.

Data from Statistics NZ shows the murder rate in New Zealand in 1981 - when Miles was the same age as Liam when he was murdered - was higher than in 2011, the year of his death. It rose rapidly in the 1990s, peaked, and has fallen since.

Miles said: "It doesn't feel safe as years ago when we were kids, to walk the streets."

She said it took an effort to get through each day without thinking about Gosnell because it was a reminder of what happened to Hayden. Some days were better than others.

The murder was constant, compounding trauma on Hayden's family.

Police search the Ruru Lawn Cemetery in Christchurch during the hunt for Hayden Miles.
Police search the Ruru Lawn Cemetery in Christchurch during the hunt for Hayden Miles.

First was the anxiety of Hayden's disappearance - he vanished for 111 days. Along that time was the growing realisation something awful had happened, then being told he had been murdered and what happened to his body.

It was followed by multiple High Court hearings and then the Court of Appeal - Hayden's family locked into an agonising, ongoing process that never seemed to end.

They learned Hayden had gone to the flat where Gosnell was living to join a drinking session.

That a comment by Hayden sparked Gosnell's assault - a calculated, cruel and prolonged beating interrupted by Gosnell to force Hayden to clean himself in case police carried out a curfew check.

Gosnell continued to beat the teenager, inflicting injuries so severe his face was unrecognisable as belonging to a teenage boy.

And when Gosnell awoke in the morning, finding Hayden dead, he set about disposing of his body using a knife and a jigsaw, laughing as he put pieces in plastic bags later buried in cemeteries and his back yard.

Concerns from families of murder victims have been prominent in debates on law and order for almost 20 years, leading to greater prominence for those affected by violent crime in the justice system.

Miles asserted the right of those who had lost someone to be heard. "This really upsets us."

Gilbert said considerations of releasing murderers into society was partly an exercise in weighing the feelings of the victim against the benefit of the release to society. That included what the person might contribute, removing a cost from the criminal justice system and society's underpinning belief in redemption.

"As much as we understand the feelings of victims, they should only be given so much weight in the process. This is why the state does prosecutions. The state does it without emotion."

He said it was done by the state on the principle of serving all of society in the best way possible.

"That is because there is never going to be a punishment that is enough for the victim."