Prison transfer sparks human rights row

Sasha Borissenko


Updated November 12, 2018


A photo of Arthur Taylor in 1998 as he was escorted from the back of a police vehicle at the Tairua Police station. Photo: Getty Images
A photo of Arthur Taylor in 1998 as he was escorted from the back of a police vehicle at the Tairua Police station. Photo: Getty Images

Video footage shows notorious prison ‘bush lawyer’ Arthur Taylor being forcibly taken while unconscious from Auckland to Waikeria Prison – but maltreatment is strongly denied by Corrections. 

Arthur Taylor, his lawyer Sue Earl, Otago University former Dean of Law Mark Henaghan, and advocate Hazel Heal want Corrections to release the footage to the public.

Henaghan and Heal also plan to send information to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. They claim the long-time prisoner and public law litigant was subjected to torturous treatment during the transfer.

Having late last month seen the camera footage of an incident where Taylor was transferred in December last year, Henaghan and Heal say Taylor’s fundamental human rights were breached.

Heal told Newsroom the footage shows Taylor being approached by up to five Corrections security staff at Auckland Prison. He refused to cooperate, in a calm manner, but was forced to the floor and handcuffed. Taylor mumbled for a minute or so, before appearing to become unconscious.

Heal says staff “basically dragged him out of the office, face down, hands cuffed behind his back, with one person at his head, each arm and leg, and someone holding the seat of the remainder of his pants. He’s a big guy so his belly was arched toward the floor”.

“It was all really disturbing. His face was grey, his hands were flaccid in the double handcuffs. He had these twitching muscles and his tongue was darting in and out, twisting and curved. His hands were also grey and puffy.”

Up to 20 officers were seen moving Taylor in the footage, and more than one officer was heard asking whether Taylor was still breathing, Heal says. 

He was put in a van and taken to Waikeria Prison. Heal understands the journey took over three hours, but there is no camera footage in the van, or once he arrived at the prison.

It is understood that in cases where inmates experience a medical event, a doctor is to be called within 24 hours. Newsroom has been told Taylor did not see a doctor for six weeks.

Henaghan said he was horrified by the footage. “It’s hard to believe that so many breaches occurred in such a short period of time…[It’s as if security staff] were going to go through with it no matter what”.

“He was clearly unconscious and you can see him twitching. At this point they should have gotten a doctor straight away. He was strapped into various things and he was carried around like he was some sort of animal on the tray. It was really concerning.

“I know it’s not always popular to stand up for prisoners’ rights but it’s a true test of our framework. If human rights don’t apply to all, especially the most vulnerable in society, then there’s no point in them altogether.”

Henaghan and Heal’s account of the footage contrasts with what was recorded in Corrections medical reports, obtained by Newsroom via Taylor’s right to private information under the Official Information Act.

In a report Corrections staff say Taylor remained in a stable condition during and after the transfer. 

While in the van, staff recorded that although he appeared to be asleep, he was awake but refusing to respond to verbal commands. He was physically placed in the prison, “as he was not wanting to move,” the report says.

One staff member described Taylor as “floppy and unresponsive”.

A Corrections spokesperson told Newsroom: “On the day of the transfer Mr Taylor was non-compliant with the instructions of staff, and actively resisted being moved. In line with section 83 of the Corrections Act 2004 staff were required to physically move him to the escort vehicle due to his resistance.”

He was transferred in a dedicated prisoner escort vehicle and accompanied by custodial staff and a nurse, the department said.

Corrections, referred Taylor’s complaint relating to the transfer to the police, but maintains the transfer was lawful.

“Police advised Corrections, and Mr Taylor, that the lawfulness of the transfer was a matter for the Judiciary, and that any allegation of assault could not be determined until the issue of lawfulness of the transfer had been resolved, and therefore no further action would be taken.”

Corrections carries out around 500 inter-prison movements each month.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis declined to comment, saying it was an operational matter.

Questions were put to Taylor via Heal, his privacy agent. He said despite his deep understanding of the corrections system, “I am still appalled at the sheer hypocrisy that they punish lawbreakers but they still break the law. They have, and they’ve got good reason to think that they won’t be held accountable”.

“I’m hoping for gross human rights abuses to be exposed and that it never happens to anyone else.”

Taylor had previously served sentences for crimes relating to fraud, burglary, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, firearms, drugs offences and escaping from custody dating back to the 1970s.

He was sentenced in 2003 on a variety of charges. The longest sentence was five years two months but he is serving them cumulatively, making his release date February 2022 – a total of 17 years. He has been eligible for parole since 2012.

Since the transfer, he has been served with minor prison misconduct notices relating to illegally watching a television, illegally obtaining a saucer, and wearing a beanie.

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