Toupee, or not toupee: Convict wins lawsuit over seized wig
A convicted murderer and child molester in New Zealand won a lawsuit yesterday, arguing that prison officials breached his rights by seizing a wig he used as a disguise when he fled.
Phillip John Smith fled to Brazil in November 2014 while on temporary release from Auckland Prison. At the time, he was wearing a hairpiece he had been given permission to wear two years earlier "to improve his self-esteem".
When he was recaptured and returned to New Zealand three weeks later, the wig was confiscated and images of Smith's bald pate were splashed across the media when he appeared in court.
"I felt totally belittled, degraded and humiliated," he told the High Court earlier this month.
Smith was sentenced to life in 1996 for sexually abusing a boy over a three-year period, then tracking down his victim after his family fled to another city. Smith broke into the family's house and fatally stabbed the boy's father, who had tried to protect his son.
The 42-year-old told the court the toupee was central to his ongoing rehabilitation as he was very sensitive about his baldness.
Judge Edwin Wylie accepted Smith's argument that the Corrections Department had failed to take his rights into account when it seized the hairpiece.
"I have concluded that Mr Smith's fundamental right to freedom of expression was ignored," he said in a written judgment delivered yesterday.
Victims' advocate Ruth Money said the Smith case was "embarrassing for New Zealand".
"I have absolutely zero sympathy. He showed no sympathy for his victims," she told Prime News.
Wylie rescinded the prison's decision to confiscate the toupee but suspended it for two weeks to allow authorities to make a fresh case. He declined Smith's application for NZ$5000 in damages.