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Killer's parents talk about their son

Published: 8:14PM Sunday December 15, 2002

The parents of William Duane Bell have told their story to family friend and Samoan chief, James Papali'i, in a unique interview under the Sunday programme's supervision.

Bell's mum and dad described their horror when they learned their son had been arrested for the murder of three people at an Auckland RSA.

The convicted mass murderer has more than 85 criminal convictions to his name, including theft, fraud, unlawful taking of motor vehicles, burglary, entering with intent, demands with intent to steal, aggravated robbery, presenting a firearm, impersonating police, assault, trespass, traffic and drug offences.

The 24-year-old, dubbed the baby-faced psychopath, now faces a lifetime of prison after being found guilty of bashing three people to death with the butt of a shotgun at the Mt Wellington/Panmure RSA. A fourth person was left bloodied and near death in a horrific crime which shocked the nation.

"I thought it was an evil person and I found out it was my son," Mike Bell said.

Mike is a man with his own troubled past, but says he will never forget the day his son was arrested for the RSA murders.

"...It was one of the most horrifying things...I've never cried so much in my life," he said.

Georgina te Hana said she wanted to give up living.

"It was my son...and I really wanted to take my life to replace (the victims)."

Papali'i grew up in the Auckland suburb of Mangere with William Bell. He is a local city councillor, social worker and lecturer and says the town is struggling to find its cultural identity while dealing with complex social problems.

"I want to say upfront to the victims and their families this in no way takes anything away from them...we're not trying to justify the killings," Papali'i said.

"We're trying to give you a glimpse of who William Bell is."

Mike Bell said William had a hard upbringing.

"I'm brought up from the old school and I think I treated William a bit too, well, over harsh."

Mike admitted to Papali'i that William would get the bash as a young fellow.

"At that particular time all I knew was to do what I got."

The family have only two photos of William as a child. His parents separated when he was just seven years old and they say he could not accept why his father had gone.

It was about this time that Georgina and Mike noticed William's behaviour was starting to change - he was getting into trouble, getting involved in petty crime.

"I'd say I was hard, but I used to give him things like money, things like that, I think I might have given him too much money and then he took it for granted and when I didn't have it he would go and pinch it from somewhere," Mike said, adding that William took his car when he was just 10 years of age.

The police pulled him up because he was short but it was not just the police who were concerned about William. Welfare agencies were starting to look closely at his parents.

"I had somebody knock on my door and say...we've just come from the courts...your son has been made state ward and is on his way to the boys' home," Georgina said.

"I was angry because I didn't want to talk to anybody for what they done to me," she said.

From the age of nine until he was 17 William was in and out of the Weymouth Residential Centre, with the state believing Mike and Georgina were not fit enough to bring him up.

Now they are questioning whether the institution did a better job of raising their son.

Mike Bell was no angel. The gangster has done prison time and was well known around Mangere as a staunch customer.

He said William would tell him he was going to be like his dad. Mike said William would say "I'm going to be better than what you did".

"He wasn't talking about being a footballer, he was talking about prison," Mike said.

"He wanted to be better than the gang that I was in, he wanted to be in another bigger gang, bigger than me."

People who knew William and saw him when he was with his family could still see a good side, but Mike said when he mixed drugs and beer it was bad for him.

"He was a completely different person," Mike said.

In February 1997 William was turned down for a job at a service station in Mangere. In a chilling prelude of what was to come, he returned to the station late at night and viciously attacked an attendant with a stolen police baton.

But Mike says he has never been afraid of his son.

"Why should I feel afraid of my son," he asks. "When he does flip out I know what I'm like and I can flip out ...probably worse than him."

Mike said William has never physically hurt his father but has always said "I can fight you dad".

However, Mike admits that the general public has reason to fear his son.

At the age of just 19, William was sentenced to five years nine months in jail and served most of it at Auckland's Paremoremo Prison. Already known to be wildly violent, William received some treatment but was still placed amongst the hardest, most violent of criminals.

He was 22 when he finally came out in 2001.

Georgina said William had a girlfriend and they had a baby together who died at birth. She said her son was not present at the birth because he was in jail. Georgina said that although William attended the funeral he was angry he could not be there for the birth.

"That's where I saw a lot of anger," she said.

When William came out of prison on parole in July last year, he moved back to Georgina's place in Mangere and even returned to his former league team.

William seemed to be getting on with life and people who knew him were surprised at what happened next.

Mike said that on the day of the murders, they had played touch and his son was "getting rowdy". He said a couple of William's mates came in and he overheard them saying "we're going to the RSA". Mike said he thought they were just going there for a drink.

Mike said William was wired up that particular night.

The next day Mike overheard friends discussing the horrifying killings at the RSA and that police were hunting for the killer.

Mike said it was two more days before he and Georgina realised that the man the police were hunting was their son.

Georgina said when her house was broken into by armed offenders, that was the first time she knew anything about it.

She said when she found out why William had been arrested the guilt of having raised a child who was capable of such an act was too much for her and she seriously contemplated taking her own life. She said it was only the thought of her other children that enabled her to pull herself together.

Mike said he found it hard to believe.

"Not that evil nature thing," Mike said.

They say they may never get past the blame, the anger, the hurt and the grieving.

They both spoke of their ongoing sadness for the victims and their families, saying their hearts went out to them along with the rest of New Zealand.

Mike says he accepts some of the responsibility of where William is now. He says if he could change just one thing it would be to show his son more love.