RSA triple killer William Bell loses appeal after allegedly planning to take female prison guard hostage

Convicted triple killer William Bell has lost a legal appeal after allegations that he was planning to take a female prison officer hostage as part of a bid to escape from Paremoremo Prison.

Bell represented himself in an appeal to the High Court seeking a judicial review of a prison decision to lift his security classification from low medium to maximum after the alleged hostage plan was discovered.

Justice Mark Woolford has dismissed the appeal, finding that there was “no breach of the applicant’s right to be treated with humanity” and “no element of procedural unfairness”.

Bell, who is now in his early forties, apologised to the court for killing three people and wounding a fourth in 2001 at the Mt Wellington-Panmure RSA, where he was doing work experience but was told to leave.

He admitted that he was using methamphetamine at the time and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole time of 30 years.

Justice Woolford said in his judgment that Paremoremo Prison staff found in March 2019 that Bell was keeping a notebook containing the registration numbers of trucks making deliveries to the prison, names and addresses of former prisoners, bank account details of another prisoner who had escaped, and reference to a remote-controlled helicopter.

“This information led prison staff to conclude that Mr Bell may be planning an escape,” the judgment says.

“Mr Bell was subsequently stood down from his job in the prison kitchen.”

The next month prison staff received an anonymous letter alleging that Bell was “looking to obtain cleaning products or chemicals from the kitchen with the intention of using them to poison others in the unit or staff”.

“The information was not confirmed by other sources and there is no evidence of Mr Bell being in possession of such chemicals or prisoners delivering such chemicals to him,” the judgment says.

However, the two incidents together led to a decision to raise Bell’s security classification from low medium to high in August 2019.

In the same month, an anonymous informant called the Crime Stoppers 0800 number claiming that Bell was “planning to take a female staff member hostage in the prison laundry where Mr Bell was working”.

“The informant also alleged that Mr Bell was passing drugs and notes through his position in the laundry and was asking other prisoners for shanks,” the judgment says.

“Prison staff reviewed CCTV footage. It showed Mr Bell removed something from his pants and putting it in an envelope before passing it to another prisoner who, according to the
respondent, is known to make weapons.

“The respondent [Corrections Department] considered the risk of Mr Bell taking a staff member hostage real and Mr Bell’s employment at the laundry was terminated. The female prison staff were also directed not to work in Mr Bell’s unit.”

Bell’s security classification was then raised again to maximum. It was reduced back to high in November 2019 and back to low medium in January 2020.

Bell sought a judicial review on eight grounds, including that prison officers discriminated against him due to unconscious bias against his “Māori heritage and criminal offending”, that he was not treated with humanity, that the prison processes were a breach of natural justice and that the authorities acted unreasonably.

He said the prison did not treat him fairly because the allegation about the plan to take a female staff member hostage came from “a prisoner known to be vexatious”.

He compared his security classification with Philip John Smith, who escaped and fled to Brazil but was still given a lower security classification than Bell.

But the judge found that there was no evidence that Bell was discriminated against and that none of the other grounds that he offered proved that the prison’s decisions or processes were unreasonable.

“Whether the decision was overly restrictive and whether other management tools were available was a matter of judgment for Corrections staff,” the judge said.

“The Court will be slow to interfere with prison management decisions involving such judgment calls.”

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