A CHILD sex offender has had to be moved from Kawerau due to fears for his safety.
Mathew Graeme Stark, 35, pictured, was placed in Kawerau following his release from prison for possession of child pornography.
The Kawerau community were alerted to Mr Stark’s presence in a Facebook post from “Stop the Suppression”, a campaign led by the Sensible Sentencing Trust.
Mr Stark, from Rotorua, was sentenced to 14 months and two weeks in prison in November 2017 for possession of objectionable images a judge described as “sadistic”.
He was found with 195 images of vulnerable children ranging from toddlers to adolescents.
Of those images, 87 were deemed to be the most serious category, Category A, containing penetrative sexual activity.
A devout Jehovah’s Witness, he already had two previous convictions for sexual offending against a young person under 16 from 2012 and 2016.
Members of the Kawerau community were shocked to know an offender such as this had been placed in their community without notification and soon made threats of violence against Mr Stark.
Sensible Sentencing Trust spokeswoman Jess McVicar said the trust never wanted to start a “witch hunt” but believed people had the right to know about offenders such as this so they could keep their children safe.
“With situations like this our main goal is to keep the community safe,” she said.
“The mistake has been made too many times that people like this have been placed near children.
“Quite often they are placed in a situation where the community is at risk. So, our point of being is to get it out and known to the public, then people have that choice of keeping themselves safe.
“We will never give an address and in this case, we didn’t name the town, but it is about keeping the community safe.”
Mrs McVicar said once the community was made aware they could choose to approach the Department of Corrections and request the offender be moved if they felt unsafe.
“If they notice anything actually happening within the community then they have the right to approach the police or corrections and report it,” she said.
“If they don’t know that this situation is happening within their town then they’ve got the risk of more victims. Our idea is never for the community to take it into their own hands, we always hope they will contact police, corrections or the parole board to have it assessed by them.
“People need to know who is being let out, who is on our streets so they can keep their children safe. Community safety should be paramount, that’s the end of.”
Kawerau Mayor Malcolm Campbell learned yesterday from a Facebook post that Mr Stark had been placed in the community and said he was “bitterly disappointed” with Corrections’ decision.
“I found out he had been placed into the camp (The Village) and I actually rung them last night and the people who had placed him there hadn’t even told the owners of the property of his circumstances, so they basically put him on the road yesterday and said ‘no, you’re gone’,” said Mr Campbell.
“He was staying in D-Block, which is a motel-type thing where you share showers and this guy was placed in that situation. There are women and children there, I think it is ridiculous. If he has been put there by Corrections that’s a real concern.”
Mr Campbell said he would like to see justice minister Andrew Little “hauled across the coals” and would like him to answer to the community for the decision.
“All we want is a heads-up to who is coming, especially dangerous people like this man, I’m very disappointed in Corrections NZ, not the Kawerau office who can only do as they’re told,” he said.
“This is a dangerous individual and I’m not happy about it. Minister Little needs to be held accountable for this decision.
“The community is frustrated and upset, worried about their children and I can see their point.”
Mr Campbell said it was ridiculous and disappointing that he and the community had to find out about the issue through social media.
Mr Stark was moved from Kawerau yesterday morning with Corrections citing fears for his safety.
“Where appropriate, we support offenders to return to the communities they have come from and maintain connections with support people who assist them to reintegrate safely and reduce their risk of reoffending,” said Corrections operation manager for the central region, Louise Wood.
“Community safety is our top priority and no offender would be permitted to reside at an address if it was considered the risk could not be safely managed and public safety upheld.
“In this case the offender had an existing pro-social support network in Kawerau.
“We work hard to balance any public concerns with our obligation to safely manage offenders in the community when they can no longer be lawfully detained in prison.
More than 15,000 offenders were released from prison last year and finding accommodation for offenders who are lawfully required to be released from prison is one of our significant challenges. The reality is without supported accommodation, these offenders would be homeless, which would present an unacceptable safety risk to communities.
“Offenders convicted for child sex offending are particularly challenging to approve a placement for, due to community opposition.
“Even when supported living and supervisory arrangements are put in place, the level of animosity directed toward the offender, Corrections staff, landlords and reintegration support providers make the placement unsuitable for safety reasons.
“In recent years, in response to an increasing shortage of supply of options in the housing market for challenging or hard to place offenders, we have increased our investment in accommodation and support services from $3.8 million in 2017 to over $7 million per annum.”
Ms Wood said when high risk offenders were reintroduced to the community, they had to comply with an extensive range of conditions which could include GPS monitoring, regular contact with Corrections staff, compliance with rehabilitation programmes, restrictions on living and working arrangements, a direction not to consume alcohol or drugs and restrictions on associating with certain people.
“Community corrections staff carry out ongoing assessments and use comprehensive risk assessment tools to identify any likelihood of further offending and risk of harm to others,” said Ms Wood.
“We actively manage the compliance of offenders with their conditions and will hold them to account if they breach. Potential penalties can include breach action, increased reporting to community Corrections, formal prosecution or a recall to prison.”
Mr Stark’s release conditions include GPS monitoring, a curfew, a ban on contact with anyone under 16, a ban on entering or loitering near schools, parks and swimming pools and not to possess Internet accessible devices or cameras without approval.