A bald killer serving life in a New Zealand jail has won a court battle to have his toupee returned to him with a High court judge ruling that by denying him his hairpiece prison authorities “ignored” the prisoner’s “fundamental right to freedom of expression”.
Philip John Smith’s wig was confiscated when authorities recaptured him after he fled the country, using the toupee as part of a disguise.
But he has now successfully argued that his toupee was an “artwork” essential to his self-esteem.
Smith was convicted and imprisoned in 1996 for murdering the father of a boy he had previously sexually abused. He also has a string of other convictions, including extortion, aggravated robbery and sexual offences.
In November 2014, while on temporary release for work, Smith fled to South America with an illegally obtained passport but was soon caught by Brazilian authorities and deported.
He quickly became an object of public ridicule in New Zealand when it was revealed that he was bald and had worn a wig while escaping.
Smith pointed to the media attention as part of his legal case to win back his toupee, saying he felt “belittled, degraded and humiliated”.
He argued that the custom-made hairpiece was an “artwork” that was important for his self-esteem and self-confidence.
The convict, who represented himself in court, also accused prison officials of acting in an “arbitrary and discriminatory” way by confiscating his hairpiece as “payback”.
High Court judge Edwin Wylie released his decision on Thursday siding with Smith, but declined his request for damages.
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