RSA murderer William Bell takes action against Corrections after losing kitchen job amid hostage allegation

William Bell during his court appearances for the RSA murders, in 2001.

Stuff

William Bell during his court appearances for the RSA murders, in 2001.

Triple murderer William Bell is taking legal action against Corrections after allegations that he planned to kidnap a female prison staffer saw him lose his kitchen job.

Bell is serving New Zealand’s longest minimum non-parole period, 30 years, on a life sentence for the murders of William Absolum, Wayne Johnson and Mary Hobson, and the attempted murder of Susan Couch, during an aggravated robbery of the Mount Wellington Panmure RSA in 2001.

Bell had been working towards an NCEA qualification in Auckland Prison’s new state-of-the-art kitchen when he was moved from the role. Stuff understands a former prisoner called Crimestoppers alleging Bell had plotted to take a hostage.

Corrections’ suspicions were further raised after an officer found a note in Bell’s cell with reference to a remote-controlled toy helicopter.

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Bell denies the allegations. Police wouldn’t confirm whether the allegation was the subject of a criminal investigation citing privacy reasons.

Corrections confirmed Bell had been moved to a different type of employment within the prison – understood to be the laundry – but said of the allegation, “there has been no threat to the wider security of the prison and no threat to public safety at any time”.

It’s understood Bell was classed as a low-medium security prisoner but that rating was increased to maximum before being dropped again by Corrections.

Bell filed an application in the High Court at Auckland for a judicial review of the rating before it was reduced, but it’s understood Bell is continuing with the legal action as Corrections hasn’t reinstated him in the kitchen.

The matter will be in court on Monday and Bell will appear remotely. The court has appointed an amicus curiae to assist him.

Up to 50 Auckland Prison inmates work in the kitchen cooking for other inmates, and can work towards gaining an NCEA qualification in hospitality and catering. They work under Corrections staff supervision in the new, modern kitchen, built under the $300m upgrade of the prison, which was finished in 2018.

Bell’s mother, Georgina Tahana, said Bell was extremely disappointed after losing a job he loved. Security classifications can inform parole reports, and the types of rehabilitation programmes available to inmates.

“He was trying, and he was motivated. He was so proud. He was really, really enjoying what he was doing. He would say, ‘so what are you having for lunch, what’s for dinner, here’s what you can do’. I know what it’s like when you want to do something and you want to make a good job of it. I don’t know why (Corrections) did this,” she said.

A security classification is given to prisoners serving a sentence of more than three months, and is meant to convey an escape risk, and a risk an escape would pose to the public. The five classifications range from minimum to maximum. Inmates have the right to ask Corrections to reconsider their classification.

LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff

“Rock College”, Mark Derby’s new book about Mt Eden Prison, paints a grim picture of New Zealand’s oldest penal institution.

Tahana said she could see an uplift in her son’s mood while he held the job. “Everything he does to move forward, there’s always a knock back.”

Corrections declined to answer specific questions citing privacy and the upcoming court case.

“As you will appreciate, this matter is currently before the court, and to avoid jeopardising these proceedings or prejudicing their outcome, we are limited in our ability to provide further specific information,” a spokesperson said.

A similar judicial review was taken by former long serving prisoner Arthur Taylor in 2015, when Taylor claimed a 2014 Corrections decision to make him a high security prisoner impeded his progress towards parole.

Bell is eligible for parole in 2032. In February Bell was awarded $1000 after being illegally strip searched along with others prisoners at Auckland Prison in 2016. In 2007, he was stabbed in the eye by a fellow inmate.

The RSA murder inquiry lead Detective Senior Sergeant Dave Pearson previously described Bell as “the most evil criminal” he’d ever met, saying Bell had showed no remorse for beating his victims to death, and shooting one. Bell had been fired from his bar job at the RSA.

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