One of New Zealand's most notorious criminals has revealed he was trying to raise cash for his late partner's reburial when he was caught in an armed offenders squad drug raid.
Dean Wickliffe, who has spent more than half of his life in jail and twice escaped from the maximum-security Auckland Prison at Paremoremo, was yesterday sent back behind bars for seven years after his arrest in a December 2 bust that came just six months after his release from prison on parole.
In the Tauranga District Court, the 63-year-old claimed he had taken a $10,000 offer to help make a batch of methamphetamine in a garage in the Bay of Plenty settlement of Maketu.
He claimed his reason for accepting the money was to buy a Portacom dwelling on a piece of Maori land transferred to him, where he wanted to create an urupa (burial site) to bury his long-time partner Dionne Chapman.
Ms Chapman died of breast cancer in 2010 after giving evidence relating to charges laid against Wickliffe from a previous drug bust in 2008.
Wickliffe also claimed that the property owner - his lifelong associate and now co-accused Andrew Reid - was unaware he was using a room he rented in the back of his garage to manufacture the drug P. He had instead told him he was making cannabis oil.
The court heard Wickliffe grew uneasy with the operation when the P cook he was assisting - and whom he repeatedly refused to identify under cross-examination - began smoking the product and talking on his cellphone two days before the bust.
He claimed that later that day, he revealed to Reid what he had been making. Saying he felt responsible and fearing a police raid, he returned to the house on Friday to get rid of the evidence.
He told the court the cook, who had abandoned the lab, had offered to double his payment if he returned his equipment and the methamphetamine.
But while he was taking equipment between the house and the garage, a police constable hidden in bushes just over 20m away was recording movements around the property.
The constable recorded Wickliffe telling another person on the section: "Let's f****** do this."
When police raided the property and found 140g of pre-packaged methamphetamine and more being dried, Wickliffe tried to accept full responsibility for the lab, telling detectives he was disappointed in himself.
He was charged with manufacturing methamphetamine and possession of the drug for supply and later three other related charges.
Crown prosecutor Rob Ronayne challenged Wickliffe's arguments about his role in the operation, telling the court he was involved from start to finish.
Mr Ronayne said that in terms of criminal recidivism, "it doesn't get much worse".
In sentencing, Judge Peter Rollo told Wickliffe that while he might not have been the P cook, "your culpability is at an extremely high level".
"What is very concerning, Mr Wickliffe, is that when you were asked by one of the senior police officers if you smoke methamphetamine, you said no, that you did not, because you had seen it wreck so many lives. Your deliberate action in this regard must be marked by a substantial sentence of imprisonment."
The officer in charge of the case, Detective Nigel Grey, told the Herald afterwards that he was satisfied with the sentence and described the manufacture of methamphetamine as a "constant battle" for police.
The sentence comes 40 years after Wickliffe was first sent to prison for the murder of Wellington jeweller Paul Miet. The charge was reduced to manslaughter 12 years later.
Wickliffe was later charged with another murder but his conviction was quashed and he was acquitted at a retrial.
After his release back into the Maketu community last year, a local minister was quoted as saying Wickliffe wanted to get on with his life, "because I think he's learned his lesson by now".