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PM apologises for Smith 'joke'

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 11/11/2014
Prime Minister John Key says he's sorry he made light of convicted murderer and pedophile Phillip Smith's escape. © Getty Images Prime Minister John Key says he's sorry he made light of convicted murderer and pedophile Phillip Smith's escape.

Prime Minister John Key says he's sorry he made light of convicted murderer and paedophile Phillip Smith's escape from New Zealand to South America.

Smith fled the country on Thursday while on a three-day temporary release from Spring Hill Prison in the Waikato.

Authorities did not realise the 40-year-old had absconded until Saturday.

It later emerged he had flown to Chile from Auckland using a passport in his birth name, Phillip Traynor.

From there he made a connecting flight to Brazil, which is where authorities have since focused their search.

But when asked what he would tell Chilean president Michelle Bachelet about the matter before the two leaders were scheduled to meet on Tuesday, Mr Key said: "I'll just let her know that there's someone who could be out there from New Zealand she may not want to invite round for lunch."

He admitted he shouldn't have made light of the situation.

"In relation to the comments that I made yesterday, obviously it was a very poorly placed attempt at humour," he told reporters in Beijing, where he is attending the APEC summit.

"I regret that and I unreservedly apologise."

Mr Key said authorities are concerned about possible procedural failures that enabled the convicted murderer to apply for a passport without raising alarm bells.

There will potentially be a ministerial inquiry, said the prime minister.

"A number of agencies are undertaking inquiries, as you would expect," he said.

"We're also getting some advice on whether a bigger inquiry is actually required."

Smith was charged with molesting a neighbour's son in 1995 and went on to kill the father of the boy he had been molesting, for which he was jailed for at least 13 years in 1996.

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