Robin Nigel CHURCHILL - 22/11/2017

Parole Hearing

Under section 21(2) of the Parole Act 2002


Hearing: 22 November 2017

at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison via AVL from New Zealand Parole Board, Wellington

Members of the Board:

  • Hon M A Frater – Panel Convenor
  • Judge J Lovell-Smith
  • Assoc Prof. P Brinded
  • Mr J Thomson

In Attendance:

  • [withheld]


  1. Robin Nigel Churchill is serving a life sentence of imprisonment for the murder of his wife, Sharon, on 13 August 1993.  Her body was found in Lake Tekapo on 31 August that year.  He has been in prison now for 23 years.  During that time was been sentenced to 15 months, concurrent, for assaulting another prisoner.
  2. Mr Churchill last appeared before the Board on 28 April 2016.  At that stage he was housed in [withheld].
  3. In their decision, the Board noted that, notwithstanding that he had completed the programme run in what was then known as the Violence Prevention Unit at [withheld] in 2007, psychological report writers continued to comment on his ongoing limited victim empathy, lack of remorse and persistent cognitive distortions, including victim blaming and minimising his violent behaviours.  Some also noted his inability to identify early warning signs and high risk situations.
  4. As a result, the writer of the 2016 psychological report suggested that, instead of participating in reintegration activities, which he had been, Mr Churchill should re-engage in a Special Treatment Unit Rehabilitation Programme (STURP).
  5. While, understandably, he would have preferred to continue down the reintegrative path, Mr Churchill told the last Board that he was prepared to review the situation.
  6. And he has done so.  He has completed the programme run in the [withheld] on 8 June 2017.  However, because of insufficient treatment progress, he was not allowed to graduate.
  7. On 31 August he transferred to [withheld], where he remains.
  8. He retains the minimum security classification which he first attained in October 2013, and is currently housed in [withheld], a work-focused, mainstream unit.  He is employed in a grounds maintenance gang.
  9. For the past two weeks he has been participating in day releases to [withheld], a reintegration unit outside the prison wire.  He is hopeful of being transferred there and being approved for release to work.
  10. He accepts the recommendations of the writer of the current Parole Assessment Report that he undertake further individual psychological treatment to address responsivity issues and that his case is reviewed by a multi-service meeting organised by his Case Manager and attended by a senior psychologist.
  11. But while he says he accepts these recommendations, it is clear that he does not see that there is any impediment to his safe release now or in the foreseeable future.  He says he could complete psychological treatment in the community and has a strong release plan, including approved accommodation.
  12. It is apparent both from the psychological report prepared for this Board and our own assessment of Mr Churchill, formed in our discussion with him today, that, not only has he failed to make any gains during treatment in the STURP, but that he is no further forward than he was at the end of the VPU programme in 2007 or, indeed, at the time of sentencing, as evidenced by the psychiatric report dated 15 June 1994 by Dr Ding for his own defence counsel.
  13. His personality is unchanged.
  14. His responses to us were superficial, overconfident and unrealistic.
  15. He told us that he struggled with the group environment of the STURP, but that, unlike some others on the programme who were there to “tick boxes”, he was willing to make changes.  He said that, as a result, during the programme he was more emotional than he had been in 20 years and had been willing to open up about what was going on for him.  He felt guilt, sadness, shame and deep regret.  He did not concede that he had violated the rules of the programme and had explanations for every criticism of his behaviour.
  16. He said that he was disappointed at the outcome (failure to graduate) given the effort that he had put in.
  17. As has been said many times before, our concern is with his risk.  We cannot release an offender unless we are satisfied that he will not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community during the remainder of his sentence.  In Mr Churchill’s case, that is for the rest of his life.
  18. He is assessed by the psychologist who wrote the most recent report for the Board as posing a moderate to low risk of perpetrating further interpersonally violent offences.  However, we note that the current report writer goes on to say that, “It is likely that, given his personality functioning and limited treatment gains, that were a combination of [identified] risk triggers to emerge and co-occur, his risk would be higher”.
  1. Those triggers include engaging in conflict with a victim, experiencing stress, exerting effort to overcontrol distressing or negative emotions, and perceiving that his entitlement and/or self-identity was being undermined.
  2. The Parole Act makes it quite clear that there is no entitlement to parole.  By the same token, nor is there any entitlement to engage in reintegrative activities.  To do so usually pre-supposes a possibility of release. We are not satisfied that Mr Churchill has or can reach that stage.
  3. Accordingly, we do not support his participating in any activities outside the confines of the prison or outside the prison wire, including, but not limited to, release to work and living in an outer self-care unit or [withheld] until the recommendations of the psychological report writer, namely, access to individual psychological treatment and oversight by a multi-disciplinary team, have been implemented, and adequate change observed.
  4. For these reasons, parole is declined.  Mr Churchill’s risk continues to be undue.
  5. His next hearing will be scheduled in just under two years time, and must be held before 22 November 2019, at the latest.
  6. We advised Mr Churchill that if parole was declined at the next hearing, the Board would also consider the possibility of making a postponement order of between two and five years duration against him.
  7. He will be given formal notice of his rights in respect of that matter in due course. These include the right to legal advice and representation.

Hon M A Frater
Panel Convenor