AAP news wire, Thu 17 Jun 1999

Nationwide General News; Australian General News

NSW: Psychiatrists should be made accountable

By John Kidman


SYDNEY, June 17 AAP - Psychiatrists who argued for the release of convicted child killer John Lewthwaite should be held culpable if he reoffended, human rights activists said today.

"If that were the case, then the psychiatric profession might not be so quick to judge dangerous criminals fit for release," Citizens Commission on Human Rights spokeswoman Lyn Cottee told journalists.

"They might also use proven, workable rehabilitation programs and testing if they were made accountable for the results."

Lewthwaite, one of Australia's longest-serving prisoners, is expected to walk free from Sydney's Long Bay jail on Tuesday after winning a five-year battle for freedom.

The June 9 decision by the New South Wales Parole Board, largely based on a series of psychiatric reports, was immediately condemned by the family of five-year-old victim Nicole Hanns.

Although NSW Corrective Services Minister Bob Debus also expressed grave disappointment, the government later ruled out lodging an appeal.

"We are asking how many more people are going to die or be injured by violent criminals let back onto the streets on the basis of the recommendations of a pseudo science, which is psychiatry," Ms Cottee said.

"(Psychiatrists) have made many, many mistakes before and many studies have shown they are no predictors of human behaviour.

"They have actually admitted themselves they can't adequately predict human behaviour. I don't find that very reassuring."

She said she was astounded the academics who submitted evidence in the Lewthwaite case appeared to profoundly disagree about his rehabilitation.

Although small in number today, the protesters will spend several hours outside the court where Lewthwaite's freedom was granted, making themselves heard.

Ms Cottee said she had been hoping for more support but the commission would stage an ongoing campaign against the parolling of other violent offenders.

Meanwhile, residents of Laurieton, near Port Macquarie on the NSW mid-north coast, were reportedly shocked that Lewthwaite intends moving to the area to live with his parents.

In 1974, a drunken semi-naked Lewthwaite, who was already on parole, broke into the western Sydney home of Gwen and Peter Hanns intending to rape their nine-year-old son.

Finding a knife inside the Greystanes house, he stumbled to the bedroom of the couple's daughter, who woke and disturbed him. He stabbed her 17 times.

He was sentenced to life in prison later that year but the term was reduced to a minimum of 20 years behind bars in 1992. He lodged the first of five appeals for parole two years later.

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