Friday, 23 August 2013

Peter Holdem's latest Parole hearing

I wrote an article some time back about Peter Holdem - that most unsympathetic of offenders - a compulsive paedophile and convicted child killer. 

Holdem was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1986 abduction and murder of 6-year-old Louisa Damodram. In 2007, the Parole Board took the unusual action of cancelling his parole hearings for 3 years. This was after a high profile media campaign by The Christchurch Star under the leadership of editor Barry Clark, who interviewed the emotionally fragile and still grieving mother of the victim, and organised a petition calling for Holdem to be be kept in prison.

In 2010 the Board denied parole, and in 2011, it imposed another 2 year postponement.

In 2012,  Nigel Latta included Holdem in his Beyond the Darklands television series and ended the episode with a powerfully worded statement that, in his (professional) opinion, Holdem should never be released.

Holdem's 2013 parole hearing came and went without any prior media comment that I was aware of, and there was a fairly muted response to the further denial of parole. In its report The NZ Herald repeated the inaccurate claim that, when Holdem murdered Louisa Damodran, he had just been released after the abduction and attempted murder of a 10 year-old girl. He was actually charged with attempted rape.

The Parole Board based its decision on a psychological report in February 2013 which described Holdem as 'predatory and opportunistic' and 'ingratiating' towards authority figures. In addition, it was said that, despite Holdem's claim not to be interested in women or girls, 'images of scantily clad females' were found in his cell.  Holdem claimed they had been planted there but the Board did not believe him.  One of the other observations made by the Parole Board was that Holdem has no support network in the community - which is hardly surprising.

The conclusion of the professionals is that rehabilitative programmes at the prison are of no further use; in other words Holdem is  - using Latta's word - 'unredeemable'.

They may well be right and who would want to take a chance on a compulsive paedophile and convicted child murderer, of whom Latta, a person of considerable influence, has said:

‘I have never come across an offender that I am so unreservedly convinced will reoffend.' ...  'He (Holdem) ‘cannot be rehabilitated, not now, not ever; there are no psychological therapies that can change what this man is and no medications that can control him.’ 

In my opinion, the BTD episode on Holdem was appalling in respect of its errors,  bias and sensationalism. I had intended to register a complaint with the Broadcast Standards Authority but for various reasons I didn't. However, I did contact the Parole Board to register my disquiet. I sent my notes to Holdem's solicitor, Mr Vigor-Brown and  I phoned his office on several occasions to ask to speak to him. I got no response from him or even an acknowledgement that he had received the notes.

I had discussions with the Sunday Star Time's crime reporter about collaborating on an article - which did not eventuate and I have had no reply to a subsequent email. I spoke to the acting editor at The Press who was not interested in the story; he said it was unlikely they would run anything about Holdem until nearer to the Parole hearing.

After several months of sending emails and leaving messages, I finally spoke to Barry Clark about his reasons for using the Christchurch Star to run the 2007 campaign. He claimed it was because it was a 'community issue' but he was not willing to discuss the issues in any depth so I have not been able to establish who initiated the campaign. Nor do I know who approached who for the Radio New Zealand interview in 2011, but the common denominator is Mel Griebel.

It was clear from Ingrid Leary's email to people whose names she pulled off the Old Friends website,  that Griebel was heavily involved in the BTD programme.

Griebel claimed in the email to his contacts which Leary used, that Nigel Latta's mind was already made up. Certainly the impression I gained was that they were looking for information which would confirm the conclusions Latta had already arrived at.

Nigel Latta's strongly worded and unconditional pronouncements about Holdem at the end of the BTD episode stood in stark contrast to the sort of information he appeared to have at his disposal i.e. what is in the public domain, and anecdotal evidence from people who knew Holdem at various points in his life all of which was from at least 26 years, and as much as 56 years, prior to the making of the programme.

The in-depth clinical information that should support such a powerfully worded conclusion could only come from careful analysis of police and court records and from Holdem's personal records. The latter can only be accessed by people who are professionally involved with Holdem, or who have his permission.

If an expert had legitimate access to that sort of information, why wouldn't s/he mention that in the programme given it would add immeasurably to the weight that could be given to any conclusions?

If an expert had access to personal information which was given without a person's permission, it could be illegal and certainly would be grossly unethical. Griebel has claimed publicly that Department of Corrections staff keep him up to date on Holdem. If true, and in light of Griebel's involvement in the moves to keep Holdem imprisoned, that would surely constitute a serious breach of professional standards.

The political dimension of the BTD programme was as obvious as its sensationalism. A group of people took it upon themselves to use the popular media to influence the judicial process and were confident enough to state their agenda openly.

Do they all have the same motives?

Nigel Latta is selling a commodity but what about Mel Griebel?  It seems fair to say that Griebel is obsessed with Holdem.  His overt and covert statements about what Holdem deserves as punishment, and his statements that Holdem is 'evil' indicate that this is a deeply personal issue for him.

It's apparent from things Griebel has said publicly, that the original investigation was flawed. The areas of concern that we know about - persuading Holdem's girl friend that he was guilty and using her in the interrogation to force a confession, taking Holdem and her to the river, keeping Holdem in a motel room overnight without having sufficient evidence to charge him  - are bad enough to ask if there were other examples of poor practice. That question must be asked, however horrible the crime was.

It would be easy to let Peter Holdem rot in prison and it may well be that, despite his sloppy research and populism, Latta's conclusion is right and Holdem does pose such a severe risk to young girls that  he must remain incarcerated for the rest of his life.

There are people who deserve to be in prison who are not; there are people who have been held in prison for decades who are known to be innocent; there are cases of people having been sent to prison after evidence was planted by the Police or as a result of poor practice.

Something is not right in this story - and the fact that Peter Holdem is a deeply flawed and possibly dangerous man who has been convicted of an appalling crime does not give the law and order brigade the right to distort the truth and manipulate the system.


  1. hey,
    i jst watched BTD episode today and it xactly as u sed, invoke emotion. i was sexually abused as a child, and it certainly affects mylife everyday, however my family think im strange bcos i do empathise with offenders, i feel tht alot needs to happen to someone to a person to make them choose to do horrific things. BTD was completely bias and Greibel has his own agenda. we need to accept tht some things are not solely the fault of an offender, tho they choose to offend, wat makes them think its ok? thanx for putting this out there

  2. Thank you Tarah- for reading the blog and for your comment.

  3. Hi I was sexually assaulted by Peter when I was 3 years old. I have very mixed opinions about what you have written for the fact that I was not His first assaultee nor His last. I have grown to be very strong and have myself work with teenage male sex offenders. I agree that people only see what Peter did they don't see past that however can you blame them? Yes everyone deserves a fair 2 nd chance at life its just a hell of a risk to take when no one even has any idea of how many victims he has

    1. Thank you for your reply. I am very sorry that you were assaulted and you need to know that I'm not excusing Peter's actions or calling for his release. The point of the article was to raise some serious questions about the inaccuracies and bias in the BTD programme, the way the Damodran investigation was carried out, and the motivation of the group of people who have organised and lobbied to keep Holdem prison.

      It may be that in his case the outcomes were the right ones, it may well be that he is too much of a risk to children to ever be released. I don't profess to know. I have to trust the people involved in assessing and representing him to do their impartial, professional best by the public and by him.

      But even if the outcomes in Peter's instance are the right ones, it does not excuse bad process because bad process results in innocent people being jailed and being kept in jail.

    2. I thought this each time I have watched it. So much doesn't sit right in the way they handled things and of such strong views about Peter being expressed but nothing said to back these up. In saying that I would had to have him lurking among us. I have a child.

  4. I too have just watched the BTL of episode on Peter Holdem. I was very saddened by the manner of Louisa's death, especially given he had first taken her to an abandoned house for several hours before murdering her in the waimakiriri.

    Even the very name of the programme is sensationalist, Beyond the Darklands. It draws the viewer in. It is a good title. But to attempt to discredit Latta's conclusions based on their convictions, because he offers them with conviction and finality - is this itself not dangerous territory to tread? He has probably researched more than he had time to fit into the less than one hour of the programme. So to say his work was sloppy is almost ignorant of the fact that he uses language to appeal to all, not the select few that know all the facts and all the ins and outs of the judicial and legal system. He is in effect dumbing things down.

    And further, to say that Holdem is deeply flawed and possibly dangerous is so forgetful of the immorality and brutality of his crime, as to make me think the writer might have chosen a more suitable avenue to vent her displeasure and disatisfaction I the legal system re innocent people behind bars.