The Police Association is calling for cops to be told when forensic mental health patients are released back into the community.
The Herald revealed yesterday that Associate Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga asked the Ministry of Health to urgently review procedures following the case of Martin Lyall.
In 2005 he was accused of murdering Kevan Newman and attempting to murder Bob Norcross during a stabbing rampage in Henderson. He was deemed unfit to stand trial and remanded to a forensic mental health unit as a special patient.
IF YOU'VE HAD A PROBLEM THE VICTIM NOTIFICATION PROCESS, PLEASE GET IN TOUCH
A "glitch" in the Ministry of Health's victim notification system meant Mr Newman's partner and children were not told Lyall had been living in the community since 2013. Mr Newman's son, daughter and partner had all registered as victims in order to be notified about Lyall's eventual release, but instead found out after a police officer involved in the case chanced upon Lyall and called them.
Mr Norcross learned of Lyall's release only when he saw him at his local supermarket this month.
In response to the error, Mr Lotu-Iiga called for immediate changes to the notification system.
Ministry of Health director and chief adviser of mental health Dr John Crawshaw apologised to the victims personally and publicly.
Mr Lotu-Iiga said legislative changes to require health officials to notify police when forensic mental health patients are released had not been ruled out. Currently there is no obligation for mental health services to alert police.
Police Association spokesman Luke Shadbolt applauded the move.
"We would support that 100 per cent," he said yesterday.
For police to do their primary job, information-sharing about who was living in their area was vital.
"It is quite incredible that mental health patients don't fall under the same criteria that we see for people released on bail, from prison or on probation."
He appreciated there were privacy issues when it came to health boards passing on information about mental health patients to other agencies.
"The fact of the matter is that we don't need to know the ins and outs. We don't need to know their particular medical issues. We just need to know they are there - as do the victims.
"It's about advising victims and reducing the risk to the public. It's one of these commonsense things - our members are trying to reduce the number of victims of crime and being able to track people who might pose a risk."
Mr Shadbolt urged the Government to include police in notifications and said he would be keeping an eye on discussions between the Ministry of Health, police and Corrections.
"Police are already advised when people are released by Corrections. I think it's a natural progression that it moves on to the people under the health sector."
Mr Lotu-Iiga said it was too early to speculate on what, if any, specific legislative changes would be required.
"At present we are focused on the needs of the victims and ensuring the processes around special patients are robust," he said.
Police Minister Michael Woodhouse would not be drawn on whether he would push for a law change but supported the review.
Just one month before Martin Lyall was first allowed back into the community, the Sensible Sentencing Trust met with Ministry of Health's director and chief adviser of mental health Dr John Crawshaw to raise concerns around weaknesses in the victim notification.
It was about the same time that a notification letter was sent to one of Lyall's three registered victims. That letter never reached the victim, the son of murdered man Kevan Newman, because of a glitch in the MoH's notification system.
The Herald has learned that in April 2013 Dr Crawshaw met with representatives of the SST and Alistair Spierling to discuss a number of matters pertaining to forensic mental health patients and their victims.
Dr Crawshaw said the Victim Notification Register was specifically discussed, and he explained the Ministry's approach which was guided by both the Victims' Rights Act and the Privacy Act.
"Subsequently the Ministry reconciled the information it had with the information held by the district health boards," he said.
That reconciliation failed to discover errors in the contact information for Martin Lyall's victims.
"This is why the current reconciliation will be reconciling the information we hold with that held by police," he said.
"Efforts to improve the process of the register and notifications continue to be part of the discussions between the Ministry, Police and Corrections - and will be raised at the meeting currently planned."
Read the Weekend Heralds story here: Victim meets killer at supermarket
•Under the Victims' Rights Act 2002, victims of certain offences are entitled to receive information about the accused or offender.
•The Victim Notification System (VNS) is a system involving the Department of Corrections, police, Department of Labour, and Ministry of Health to notify victims about an offender's progress through the criminal justice system.
•Registered victims can participate in decisions to do with the offender, such as bail or parole.
•Victims of offenders remanded to forensic mental health facilities can also register for notifications but are generally not involved in the decision-making process.
•Police and probation services are notified when offenders are released from prison or granted parole. However, there is currently no obligation for mental health services to alert them to the release of patients.