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Dying prisoner given permission to go home

Radio New Zealand Radio New Zealand 10/11/2016
Vicki Letele © RNZ Vicki Letele

Terminally-ill prisoner Vicki Letele has left Wiri Prison to return home and be cared for by her family.

Letele, who was jailed for three years and two months for property fraud in March, has been diagnosed with stomach cancer and given months to live.

The Department of Corrections had earlier reversed its position on Letele's release and asked the Parole Board to urgently consider compassionate release.

The board has agreed to allow Letele to leave prison and return home with her family.

In a decision released today the board said she was clearly very seriously ill and unlikely to recover. She had a very low risk of reoffending, it said.

Speaking from outside the prison earlier, her uncle, Ula Letele, told Checkpoint with John Campbell that she was packing up to go home this evening.

"She's just come back from having her first infusion of the full-strength chemotherapy and we were just walking out to go home and the ... director of the facility came and told Vicki and us, we're just praising the Lord at the moment."

Mr Letele said he took his hat off to Prime Minister John Key and Corrections Minister Judith Collins.

"It was a gutsy thing for them to go out they way they did and follow process and do the right thing for Vicki."

He said it was almost two months to the day that his niece was told of her prognosis and on Monday it would be her birthday.

"Even more poignant from the point of view that, if what we're told is true, it will be her last birthday and we can celebrate it as a family."

In the car, on the way home, Vicki Letele told Checkpoint she was humbled and grateful by what had happened.

"I still can't believe it," she said. "I just had my first whack of chemo infusion today and they came and woke me up and told me the good news and my emotions have just taken over, I just don't know what to feel at the moment."

Letele said she was told about 4.30pm that she would be leaving, and the result would not just benefit her and her family.

"It's for everyone that is in there that's gone before me and those that will come after me, it's for them that don't have the support.

"I'm just so overwhelmed and so humbled and I'm glad that this is not going to benefit just me and my family but it's going to benefit those that are yet to come in my shoes, no one should have to go through that."

Letele said prison was no place to be without her family's support during her terminal illness.

Earlier today, Mr Key said he supported Letele's release. He said he understood that victims of her crime might be frustrated, but New Zealand was good at showing compassion for people with a terminal illness.

Mr Key said any other terminally-ill prisoner could also appeal to the Parole Board for compassionate release.

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