The press release read like the front page of a newspaper in wartime. DUNCAN GARNER CONVINCES VIOLENT OFFENDER TO RETURN TO POLICE CUSTODY. Of course we were going to tune in. I imagined a bus rigged with explosives. The passengers trapped inside, subject to the whims of a criminal with nothing to lose. Then Duncan Garner coming out from behind the police line, megaphone in hand, saying something like “You don’t want to do this, man!”
But what transpired was a little less dramatic. The show opened with a bit of banter about the South Island (“They roll their r’s in Gore!”), and then the piece was introduced. “Duncan has got quite the story to tell us,” Heather du Plessis-Allan said.
Cut to Garner interviewing Casey Cowan, a man recently serving six months’ home detention for violent offences including male assaults female. Cowan cut his monitoring anklet on September 3rd and went on the run, telling Garner that he had concerns over promises made to him by Child, Youth and Family. “They broke their agreement,” he said, “so I’m breaking mine.” You don’t exactly make an agreement to wear a monitoring anklet, it’s a legal sanction imposed by a judge, but it’s clear Cowan felt slighted. The tone of the thing was weird. There was real distress on Cowan’s face. A sad fire in his eyes.
Garner then spoke with Cowan’s ex-partner Helena. He revealed she had been kicked out of a parenting course when Cowan went on the run, and was now living in her car. Their child had also been taken from her, and she alleged a CYF’s case manager had maintained the child would be returned when Cowan was located. CYF’s denied this in a statement, leaving the viewer to make at best an educated guess on what really happened.
Cut to Garner delivering Cowan to the police station and a quick piece-to-camera out front.
The timing was ideal for Garner, who has been on the warpath in recent times over the ease in which crims can simply snip their anklet with a pair of kitchen scissors and make off into the night. It looks like he was right all along. And good on him for facilitating a peaceful resolution to this particular mess.
But the piece didn’t come across to me as it was perhaps intended. Rather than a heroic example of the fourth estate making a tangible difference, it was more of a sad glimpse at an unfortunate situation, with only some of the facts and not much in the way of context. Besides, the court of public opinion isn’t exactly the place to try your case against CYFS.
So why did Cowan choose surrender by television host? Why attract the prying attention of the Tolkienesque all-seeing, all-judging public eye?
In his own words – “Because I need to get my son back.” Or as Garner put it – “He didn’t want to get shot. He was scared of the police.”
The story was followed with a piece about philanthropic pensioners.