I wonder how many lives might have been saved if serial drink-driver Gavin Hawthorn had been given help from the start for what looks from this distance like a very serious alcohol problem. Quite possibly four.

He's got quite the record for offences on the road: 12 drink-driving convictions plus others for driving while disqualified and dangerous driving. Then there's his off-road pursuits: burglary, theft, violence and drug convictions.

He's done time. But with his list of crimes — and his most recent drink-driving conviction — you could be forgiven for thinking that prison doesn't work. That's obviously what Judge James Johnston thought when he gave him a non-custodial sentence.


It's impossible to estimate how many people in the system that is supposed to stop these things Hawthorn would have encountered over the years. Police, lawyers, social services, Corrections staff, probation officers — all of them officially there to help, but not supported to do so in ways that make a difference — as Hawthorn's record shows.

The authorities had him in their hands and failed to do anything except lock him up. He was probably offered some rehabilitative therapy in custody, but it clearly didn't work.

His case exemplifies a lot of what is wrong with our justice system in one tragic package.

The crash nearly 30 years ago in which three people were killed might have been enough. But it wasn't. Otherwise he wouldn't have been in a position to kill another man in a crash in 2004. That didn't lead to much in the way of results either.

Even Ruth Money — not known for her sympathy to criminals — can see the problem. "Give us time to get him the mental health, the alcohol and drug rehabilitation that he needs, but keep us safe," she said.

Unfortunately, the sort of rehabilitative programmes that work, both in and out of prisons, are not popular thanks to a public mood that's been inflamed by Money and the likes of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

She trotted out the old saw about insanity being defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result and in this case she's right. We keep locking people up and not supporting them to get better — and the consequences are never any different.

In a case like Hawthorn's — where so much harm has been done to so many — the desire for retribution is understandable , but the refusal to carry out effective rehabilitation is not. It merely continues the cycle. So people die, and families are left miserable. This is not to defend him — it's to condemn the system that perpetuates the problem.


Speaking of insanity and repetition — they've finally caught up with Zholia Alemi, who parlayed a year of study at Auckland University into a 22-year career in psychiatry in the UK.

It's an open secret among con artists that the easiest profession in which to pass yourself off as a member is medicine. This is partly because once people put on white coats they all look the same. And it helps that some doctors spend a lot of their time not doing anything. Or telling us what we already know about diet and exercise and drug use. Put that together with vague statements, concerned looks and lots of active listening, and your average patient feels better already.

It's almost certainly easier in the age of Google and in the field of psychiatry, where contestable results aren't high on the list of KPIs.

In the end, she tripped herself up not by dispensing poor advice, but by being greedy and ripping off a patient.

I suppose technically she shouldn't have been practising without the proper qualifications — but then, neither should many of the people who have them.