More Links in Health Programs

Killer's Right to Privacy Fuels Public Fear of Mental Patients

30 Apr 2003

By Jim Chipp

The perpetrator of one of New Zealand's worst mass murders has been roaming unsecured hospital grounds alone.

Director General of Health Karen Poutasi has confirmed that Raurimu mass murderer Stephen Anderson has been given unescorted leave in Porirua Hospital grounds since June 2002.

Anderson killed six people in Raurimu in 1997, but was acquitted on grounds of insanity and committed for compulsory treatment.

He Huarahi Tamariki head teacher Susan Baragwanath wrote to Dr. Poutasi after a Porirua City News story detailed public sightings of Anderson.

In a letter copied to the newspaper, Ms. Baragwanath asked to be reassured she would not meet her sisters' killer as she goes about her business in Porirua, including visits to the hospital.

Dr. Poutasi replied that she cannot make such an assurance, but as a registered victim of Anderson's, Ms. Baragwanath was entitled to be told when he was first given leave.
She was not, due to an oversight.

The leave had been granted under the provisions of the Victims of the Offences Act 1987, rather than under the Victims Rights Act 2002 that superseded it.

The later act requires the first leave outside the building of detention to be notified, rather than just leave from the grounds.

Anderson's leave has since been revoked.

Ms. Baragwanath says it feels like she has no rights.

"And I feel I should have, it is my community and I've been here for many years."

Ms. Baragwanath says she would feel a bit more comfortable if she had been informed.
"I'd just like to be reassured that I'm not going to come across him...(but) I'm going to meet in K-Mart Plaza buying a shirt sometime."

The great majority of mental health patients are not violent, but the small proportion who commit acts of violence usually do so after stopping their medication or abusing cannabis or alcohol.

"The major problem with him was dope," Ms. Baragwanath says.

"And in this part of the world, who's to say he's not getting dope?

"I can't believe that it's not there, because it's everywhere else."

Tawa resident Paul Matthews' son was among Anderson's victims.

Mr. Matthews says the proper process has never been adhered to when Anderson has been granted leave.

"Every time it's happened I've found out from the media," he says.

"The attitude of the health professionals is that 'we are just here to try to rehabilitate him', which is not an unreasonable approach.

"(But) I have reservations about that in circumstances such as this.

"I've done a certain amount of reading into the situation.

"There has been a number of situations where patients have been deemed to be recovered and subsequently proved that it was not the case."

Porirua Mayor Jenny Brash says the secrecy with which patients' leave such as Anderson's is treated feeds public fears about mental health patients, and increases the stigma that all mental health patients suffer.

"We're talking about a very small number of people for whom, if it were known that they wandering around the community as part of their treatment programme, it could fuel very real fears."

Offenders committed to compulsory treatment in a forensic unit should not be treated differently in terms of community safety considerations than people convicted of crimes, Ms Brash says.

Reprinted with permission from Capital Community News

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top