Nicole Tuxford’s death is up there with the worst failures of the justice system in New Zealand history, writes Newshub’s Patrick Gower.
Our justice system helped kill Nicole Tuxford. These are extreme and hurtful words to put next to Nicole’s name, but sadly they are true.
Because torture, rape and murder are also extreme and hurtful words to put beside Nicole’s name – yet tragically they are all part of her life story as well.
The words that describe Nicole’s life story should, of course, only be words like kind, bubbly and helpful. She was gentle. She looked out for others. At 27, her life was in front of her.
And it was taken away from her by an evil psychopath called Paul Russell Wilson – but also by our justice system which failed her over and over again.
Of course it was Wilson who cut Nicole’s throat. But it was the justice system that gave him the license to murder her.
Nicole Tuxford’s death is up there with the worst failures of the justice system in New Zealand history – if not the worst. If it wasn’t for the failures by the Parole Board, Nicole would be showing kindness today.
If it wasn’t for the failures by Corrections, Nicole would be her bubbly self today.
And if it wasn’t for the failures by Police, Nicole would be helping others today.
The tragedy of all this includes that the systemic breakdown traces back to 1994, when Nicole was just three years old. That’s when Wilson took his first victim – torturing, raping and murdering 21-year-old Kimberley Schroder. He was jailed for “life”. In the end it was only 16 years and eight months.
‘Should have never been released’
This is where the Parole Board failed; the Schroder family repeatedly warned the Parole Board not to release Wilson because he would kill again.
The Parole Board was told directly, formally, year after year, that Wilson was going to murder someone if released.
This is where we start to see Corrections at fault, too – its psychologists got it wrong, informing the Board that Wilson was reformed. Ultimately his release is on the Parole Board, which ignored the family and set Wilson free.
It is important to note that there was absolutely no legal reason or obligation for him to be granted parole, it is simply a poor decision by the Parole Board to free him.
We know now Wilson should never have been released. But nobody can say what he did could not be predicted – because Kimberley Schroder’s family did.
And this is where Corrections failed; Wilson roamed free in Christchurch for seven years, and was “monitored” by probation officers.
But Corrections did not pick up that he was a ticking time-bomb.
Instead, Corrections gave him chance after chance, supporting him as he did things like change his name to Paul Tainui to hide his dangerous past from potential victims.
In the 18 months leading up to Nicole’s murder, Corrections had at least three opportunities to go to the Parole Board to try and get him “recalled” to his life sentence – but it didn’t bother.
And there could be many more missed opportunities in the years before that which haven’t come out yet.
Police failed badly, too; in 2015 there was a complaint Wilson had been offering women drugs and boasting about Kimberley Schroder’s murder, that led to a violent confrontation.
If this had been passed onto Corrections or the Parole Board, it would almost certainly have seen Wilson recalled to jail – but police did nothing about it. This is incompetence.
There was a further failure when Wilson was pulled up at a drink-drive checkpoint on the way to kill Nicole.
He was drunk, Police knew he was a convicted murderer on parole, who had used a “cutting weapon” – and they found two huge butcher’s knives in his car.
Again, all of this is enough for a recall application. Under the Parole Act, you don’t even need an arrest, just a belief the parolee is an “undue risk to the community”.
An application like this can be made by either Police or Corrections and is incredibly powerful as it would return Wilson to his life sentence and he would have to apply once a year for parole again.
They let him go.
Sadly it looks as if police aren’t even aware this power to recall even exists.
The responses from Police National Headquarters to its failure rely on saying that Wilson was not in breach of his parole conditions (to not go to the West Coast or engage with his victims).
This is a distraction – Wilson did not need to be in breach to be recalled. Yet it seems both the frontline officer and Police chiefs are unaware of this and if so that is a major concern.
‘A broken system’
Of course the Parole Board, Corrections and Police all refuse to admit that anything went wrong – re-victimising the Tuxford family in the process.
Each department stonewalls.
Each department blames the other department.
Each department does internal reviews that clears them.
Each department knows the family have no resources for a fight and guesses they will eventually give up.
All this re-victimises Kimberly Schroder’s family, too. They also became little people up against the big machine, trying to keep him in jail so it didn’t happen again.
When it did, her father Gary Schroder killed himself. He took his own life three days after learning Wilson had killed again – another victim of both the psychopath and the broken system that enabled it.
Nicole Tuxford’s death stands apart
Now we turn to what happens next.
The Government is currently reviewing the justice system through Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora (the Safe and Effective Justice advisory group). Everybody knows law and order is a perennial political fight between “lock them up” on the Right and “rehabilitation” on the Left.
But Nicole Tuxford’s death stands apart from this.
Regardless of which side of the justice debate people are on, everybody in New Zealand should be able to see that the system is broken in Nicole’s case.
It should be treated as a practical failure. By looking at what went wrong, we can prevent it from happening again. The Government must order an independent review of Nicole Tuxford’s case so someone can look at the failings across the board.
This could lead to specific and almost instant changes that improve our management of dangerous offenders and make the public safer – in others words “Safe and Effective Justice”.
The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Justice Minister Andrew Little are both in the position to do this.
They need to do this.
Because, if it wasn’t for our justice system, Nicole Tuxford would be alive today.
This story originally ran on Newshub