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Garth McVicar and Susan Couch’s hope

  • June 14th, 2008

This Stuff report on Susan’s Supreme Court success does not mention the vital role of Garth McVicar and the Sensible Sentencing Trust in Susan’s recovery and her case which has now inched forward.

Garth was there when the families of Bell’s three victims were reeling under the revelations of Corrections’ indifference to the threat posed by Bell. Inside tip-offs were telling them of complete administrative chaos, and staff certainty that Bell would comit grievious harm again, the only question being when and on whom. Someone was going to be Bell’s victim.

Garth  gave the practical help they needed. He found them lawyers willing to lift them from despair at their helplessness, with prospects of ‘accountability’ from those who wronged them, including the government that was more keen to display its ‘compassion’ to Bell, than to save his next victims.

Garth asked me to help him evaluate first the case for Tai Hobson, who lost his wife Mary to Bell’s cruelty. I thought the odds were against us, but that they were enough to make it worth a try. It’s not just for Tai. The case was essential to confront with the evidence of its callousness, a hypocritical  government that liked to stigmatise victims and Garth for their demands that criminals pay for their crimes.

Garth found Brian Henry to run the case. Though Tai, as a mere lifelong husband of the woman bludgeoned to death, was found to be too remote for the courts to extend the liability of the Crown, Susan as a direct victim could overcome that hurdle.

I had several weeks travelling with Tai and Garth last year. It is inspiring to see the dignity of these survivor victims after they come to feel that they can do something constructive, that their suffering might be turned to some use.

Victims have to rebuild their sense, against all the evidence, that they are not just helpless targets of capricious or even malicious fate. “Moving on” doesn’t happen while every passing day shows them their assumptions about the world were fiction, that justice is not done, that talk about fairness and reciprocity is empty, that the modern justice system largely excludes the victims as unfortunate discards, while preaching at them forgiveness.

They learn that the criminal’s welfare and fate are the central concern of the self-important actors in the justice theatre.

They are instinctively searching for ways to perform the age old cleansing and re-balancing procedures of vengeance before reconciliation.

Every long-term culture has them, as explained in Beyond Revenge – the evolution of the foregiveness instinct. This just published work by Prof Michael McCullough is a must-read book for anyone who wants to understand the centrality in any effective justice system of both assured retribution, and scope for forgiveness and reconciliation. The book summarises the evolutionary psychology behind the comunity’s interest in ensuring satisfaction of the revenge need (among other things, victims must re-establish status vis a vis the aggressor who is otherwise left in a more powerful position)  and the conditions that encourage foregivenss and reconciliation.

The more simple its objectives and decision model, the better it works over the long term. Ensure that reciprocity is seen to work, both ways. Return harm for evil after giving some latitude for one-off mistake (a second chance but not the 9th, 10th or 109th given to Bell), and return good for good. Do unto others as you would be done by.


  • Judy Ashton
  • June 14th, 2008
  • 12:40 pm

Hearing of Susan possible success has once again sent me on a roller coaster of emotions. I was privileged to attend the last SST victims conference and was a little in awe at such an amazing woman, and the many others victims who attended. It’s been 17 months since my daughter was killed by a drunk disqualified drive who was on the Police Witness Protection Programme . He was also on parole and had offended twice within 4 months but still remained free. For the last 5 months we have been struggling to get the Ministerial Report released.”Moving on” how I wish I could but until there is some sort of accountability and some sort of justice over Debbie’s death that is almost impossible. Without the support of the SST and all of its committed workers the path I am presently treading would be so much harder. Thank you for caring

  • Stephen Couch
  • June 17th, 2008
  • 10:48 am

I think myself an unnamed police officer may have had something to do with the Dept of Corrections having to come clean on the parole matter, not so much Garth McVicar, although I do like some of the copy after the event in which he used some of my quotes as his own.

You people need to think more about the family members involved in these things.

and the sacrifices we have all made.

  • Scott
  • June 19th, 2008
  • 11:01 am

I’m not sure evolutionary psychology is much help. Firstly I don’t think evolution is true, and secondly even if it is true, it doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of moral reasoning. “The survival of the fittest” doesn’t leave much room for justice or forgiveness or indeed any recognizable system of jurisprudence.

With regard to William Bell we can see that great mistakes were made by the authorities. However we must also accept that the responsibility for the murders lies with William Bell and William Bell alone. He did the murders and no one made him do it.

I actually believe that the way forward is to restore capital punishment. It is biblical, it is part of our traditions and it is shown to be effective. Capital punishment was abolished when murder rates were very low. If we restored capital punishment for murder I predict that the amount of murders in New Zealand each year would plummet. The sight of the likes of William Bell and his ilk going to the gallows or to the needle would have an immensely salutary effect on the criminal mind.

  • unkown
  • August 29th, 2008
  • 4:53 pm

to debbie ashton i want to express my symapthy for you and your family and understand how you will not have closeure until this man is treated like a normal person …do you have your own webpage or something

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