Embargoed until 9.30am Wednesday 9 July 2008
Police's National Manager of Crime Services, Superintendent Win van der Velde and Katrina Casey, General Manager Community Probation and Psychological Services, said today they have acknowledged and responded to recommendations of the Ministerial Inquiry report on the death of Nelson woman Debbie Marie Ashton in December 2006.
Ms Ashton died on the 6th of December 2006 following a collision with a vehicle driven by an offender on the Police Witness Protection Programme and subject to a community based order managed by the Department of Corrections.
"Katrina and I have recognised the role our respective agencies have played in the death of Debbie Ashton and we have both apologised in person to Debbie's parents and family and expressed our deepest regret for their loss," said Superintendent van der Velde.
The inquiry conducted by Kristy McDonald QC, found that a series of system failures and errors by staff within both Police and Corrections led to the offender remaining in the community and driving a car when he should not have been, a circumstance which led to the death of Ms Ashton.
The report identified three major issues with the Police and Corrections management of this offender: • Staff responsible for the management of the offender put too much weight on the covert nature of the Witness Protection Programme and the need for secrecy to protect the identity of the offender. This approach meant the offender was not adequately managed and poor decisions were made at a number of key junctures. • The technology available at that time did not allow the offender's previous convictions to be linked to his new identity or allow electronic monitoring of his new identity to enable robust management of his community based order. • The communication between the agencies and between personnel within the agencies was inadequate, and that it relied overly on information being passed by email and follow up did not occur to ensure emails had been read and acted on.
"It's an unfortunate reflection of the types of people we are managing, that when mistakes are made the consequences can be tragic. What is most important is that both Police and Corrections learn as much as they can from those mistakes and tighten procedures to reduce the risks of similar circumstances reoccurring," says Ms Casey.
"In this case, both agencies have made significant changes to address the deficiencies identified during this inquiry and we are committed to working together to ensure we keep our communities as safe as possible."
Both agencies had already addressed a number of the matters subsequently raised in the report's recommendations.
In 2007 the Department of Corrections developed new guidelines for managing offenders on the Witness Protection Programme who are also subject to community based sentences which have been in effect since October 2007.
Police and Corrections have worked closely to clarify communication channels for information sharing on offenders subject to community based sentences and the Witness Protection Programme.
Police and Corrections have also worked closely with the Ministry of Justice to clarify the inter-agency information technology issues surrounding the transfer and management of electronic information relating to offenders on the Witness Protection Programme. This work is ongoing.
Specific changes made by the Department of Corrections
The Department has: • Developed clearer and comprehensive guidelines for the management of offenders on community based sentences and orders who are also on the Witness Protection Programme. The guidelines:
o Ensure that all offenders, regardless of whether or not they are on the Witness Protection Programme are managed in line with the CPPS Operations Manual.
o Clarify communication channels between Corrections and Police on matters relating to offenders on the Witness Protection Programme. Communication now occurs at the local and National Headquarters level on all offenders to ensure clarity of information.
o Provide direction for all head office and field staff including clarification of the roles and responsibilities of all CPPS staff in relation to the Witness Protection Programme.
o Include clearer requirements around enforcement action, timelines and management input.
o Clarify the process to be followed in relation to breach and recall action.
o Require all offenders on the Witness Protection Programme to be put on the Offender Warning Register meaning they are subject to greater managerial oversight and less tolerance in terms of non-compliance or re-offending.
Specific Changes made by Police
• Reinforced policy around the recording of all contacts between a witness and his case officer and the subsequent supervisor and managerial review of those contacts, and the case, on a weekly and monthly basis. • Introduced a risk management framework as it relates to the assessment, relocation and monitoring of a witness on the Witness Protection Programme. • Introduced a police electronic monitoring system to ensure any contact between police law enforcement and a witness is automatically and immediately notified to the Witness Protection unit and National Manager. • Developed clear policy in relation to communication and interaction with the Department of Corrections and their staff as it relates to witnesses on parole.