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Q+A: Transcript of Annette Main interview

Published: 2:57PM Sunday August 19, 2012 Source: Q+A

GREG BOYED

Stewart Murray Wilson, also known as the Beast of Blenheim, was jailed in 1996 for sex crimes against women, children and animals over 25 years. He can't legally be imprisoned any longer so is headed for a house on the grounds of Whanganui Prison. Why Whanganui? Because none of his many victims live there.

Unfortunately, those responsible for this decision and for the surrounding laws don't feel obliged to explain. We wanted to ask Corrections boss Ray Smith, but they say this isn't the right time and there's little public interest in Wilson outside Whanganui. The parole board? They say no one on the board is willing or able to do interviews. Local MP Chester Burrows reckons he's said as much as he needs to, and, reasonably enough, Corrections Minister Anne Tolley is unwell.

But Whanganui doesn't want Wilson, and the town's mayor Annette Main is willing to talk. So a very good morning to you. Do you trust Corrections to keep Wilson to these conditions?

ANNETTE MAIN, Whanganui Mayor

I think that they have developed a plan that they think will work. What they haven't managed to do is convince the Whanganui community that it will work.

GREG Do you think it will work?

ANNETTE I think that according to what I've been told they will be able to manage him in the best possible way. Unfortunately, with the new technology they're talking about, the GPS, it hasn't been tested in New Zealand yet, and understandably, the people of Whanganui are concerned. And more particularly, the people that live in the community around the prison at Kaitoke.

GREG So in other words, no, you think they won't be able to hold him to these conditions.

ANNETTE I think they possibly can, but they haven't managed to convince the people that live nearby.

GREG Let's talk about some of the things that are being said outside Whanganui. Peter Williams QC and of the Howard League says he's disgusted at the baying wolf-like mentality. This is not the way that a civilised society, town or city carries on. What do you say to that?

ANNETTE I say that that's not Whanganui community. There are some members of the Whanganui community that have reacted predictably, and they would in any area. Many people have reacted sensibly, but generally the tone is we haven't got enough information. We weren't given this information in time. We weren't able to discuss it and we weren't able to come up with the confidence that this would work.

GREG What information do you need? What information have you not got now that you need to either be assured that he's not going to be a threat to the people there, or he is going to be a threat? What do you need to hear?

ANNETTE Well, we would have preferred to be advised earlier. We know our community. We know what the concerns are. I'm not convinced that the Corrections department took into consideration the recreational areas around the prison, or that they actually understood the community size there. And also I think that if we'd been spoken to we would have been able to understand the dynamics of the Whanganui community and been able to discuss whether or not this would work.

GREG A week ago you were saying, this is just Whanganui's bad luck. C'est la vie. Now you're saying you'll do anything to stop this happening. What's changed?

ANNETTE The comment about 'just Whanganui's bad luck' was actually in the context of the three areas that they told us were considered, and that we had one with a rural prison that they would be able to look after him. I said it was bad luck that we had a rural prison out of those three areas. I still don't know for sure what the other areas are. I've seen the media comments. I now understand that Hawke's Bay was one of them, if that is correct. That also has a rural prison. Now we're really interested to know why our rural prison was deemed to be better than Hawke's Bay rural prison.

GREG OK, let's talk a couple of nuts and bolts things. The house that he's going to stay in is not there yet. It has to be moved on to the grounds of the prison. Is that correct?

ANNETTE Yes, it does.

GREG Presumably that needs some sort of clearance from council. It needs resource consent, right?

ANNETTE It needs a resource consent and a building consent, and those are currently going through the process.

GREG Why did you grant those, then?

ANNETTE They haven't been granted yet. It's still going through the timeframe that's allowable.

GREG Will you oppose them?

ANNETTE As far as I'm aware, there's no grounds to oppose them. I've not been made aware of any legal grounds.

GREG Public safety, surely?

ANNETTE That's not a grounds for building consent or resource consent, but it is still going through the process. I think the resource consent issue is a minor one. This is the smallest of the issues. The issues are why was Whanganui chosen.

GREG No, but surely if you have the means, the mechanism somewhere within the council to say, 'No, that house can't go there,' he's got nowhere to live. Isn't that kind of your last recourse?

ANNETTE I don't believe that that means that he's got nowhere to live. It means that this option won't work. I'm pretty sure there'll be some other options.

GREG Has the Corrections Department said that there are other options, or is that their A, B, C, D game?

ANNETTE No, they haven't told us there are other options, because what they say is this is the conditions of the parole board, and it would require a change from the parole board. I'm not aware if they're discussing that currently with the parole board.

GREG We are hearing noises from Stewart Wilson's lawyer that they are now wondering if this can go ahead at all, given some of the restrictions that are in place. Tell me about those restrictions, and things like where he won't be able to go - trespass orders.

ANNETTE So trespass orders are a different factor. The restrictions he's got are the ones by the parole board. And so they are the ones that actually do restrict him from going to many areas, we understand. So the recreational areas they've told me that he will be excluded from, and so it will appear on his GPS alert. But still we don't have the confidence that we wanted that this GPS would actually work. What if it failed, are the questions people are asking.

GREG What about Whanganui businesses? You know, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, if you happen to have one. What if they say, 'No, we don't' want him here. We're going to put a trespass order in.' They can do that. That's their right. What if all the shop owners do that?

ANNETTE They can. They can.

GREG Will they?

ANNETTE I don't know if they will. One of the things that we talked about was an argument that that could happen. That arose out of the community. As a community response, it seemed like a sensible one for many of those business owners. We did agree that if we failed in preventing this happening then we would coordinate that campaign if the community wanted it.

GREG If the shop owners, the business owners do that, as mayor, would you back that?

ANNETTE It's their personal choice whether they trespass anybody. They can do it now. For the council, we would have to consider what we did about that, what we considered a trespass order over any areas. And we're yet to discuss how that would work. Because at this moment we're actually not accepting that this is gonna happen because we've asked for a judicial review of the parole board's decision.

GREG What stage is that at? Where's that likely to happen? Cos it's a matter of, what, 14, 15 days before he's actually there. If anything's going to happen, it's going to happen before then. It's unlikely he's gonna move there and then be moved again.

ANNETTE Well, that's not without precedent that that can happen reasonably quickly. We know that his lawyer is in court on Monday. We've started to prepare the information that we need for our judicial review, and we would expect that it would happen reasonably quickly.

GREG OK, in layman's terms, in a nub, your case is founded on what? Public safety, what?

ANNETTE On the decision by the parole board that Whanganui was the best place for him. We were told that it was chosen because there were no victims. We know that there were other places considered. We don't think that the safety of Whanganui people was taken into consideration when this decision was made.

GREG What about the safety - and I imagine not many people are considering this - but Stewart Wilson himself? Michael Laws says Wilson should feel unsafe. That sounds pretty threatening.

ANNETTE There have been people in our community that have said those things, and I and the police have said that that is not the solution. That's a knee-jerk reaction to a national problem that we're faced with. There are other sex offenders in our community and in every community in New Zealand, and people aren't saying those things about them.

GREG If this is successful from Whanganui's point of view, and he does go to another city, another community, what would your advice - seriously - your advice to the mayor, the community there, be?

ANNETTE It depends on where he would go. None of us want to send him into a neighbourhood, into a street in any community in New Zealand, so I guess I would wait to see whether there is another option like this in New Zealand where people can feel safe from this man.

GREG Thank you very much for your time, and we will watch this with interest over the next week or so.

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