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Suppression lifts on third Colin Mitchell rape

Anna Leask, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thursday, 11 October 2018, 11:39AM

Every day, the woman sat at the back of the courtroom, quiet and for the most part, alone.

Immaculately dressed, she listened intently to the evidence she was allowed in court for - and sat outside quietly reading her book when the room was closed for the victims, and during lunch breaks.

Most assumed she was connected to a victim, a mother or grandmother perhaps.

Or maybe she was just one of those law-loving folk who liked sitting through High Court trials.

*Sarah was Colin Jack Mitchell's first victim, a woman he had raped when he was just 15, in her own home, in the middle of the day after following her home from her local dairy.

More than 45 years had passed since that - and it's likely Mitchell had no idea who she was, or even that she was at court.

But Sarah knew exactly who, and what, he was.

"I was there to honour and support the women who gave evidence, and also to honour myself," she said.

"I needed to confront him."

Mitchell pleaded guilty to raping Sarah and was jailed for five years.

But the Herald has been unable to report on that case until now because - for reasons not stated on the court file - he was granted permanent name suppression.

After he was released from prison Mitchell went on to rape again, twice - in 1984 and 1992.

It's likely he would have raped a third woman at an isolated West Auckland quarry in 2017 had she not managed to get away.

In a bid to tell the full story about Mitchell - a predatory sexual deviant who targets vulnerable young women walking on their own - the Herald applied to the Court of Appeal to have the name suppression around his earliest offending as an adult lifted.

Colin Mitchell is a recidivist rapist who has been offending since he was a teenager. Two of his earliest victims have spoken out. Photo / Greg Bowker
Colin Mitchell is a recidivist rapist who has been offending since he was a teenager. Two of his earliest victims have spoken out. Photo / Greg Bowker

The application was a success and the Court of Appeal revoked the 43-year-old order.

However, it had to stay in place until Mitchell's current appeal on his most recent conviction and sentence was disposed.

Soon after he was sentenced in May Mitchell challenged both his convictions and sentence on the basis that he should have had separate trials for the individual attacks on women.

He also argued that evidence from another woman he was convicted of raping in 1984 should not have been used in this year's trial.

READ MORE: Colin Jack Mitchell 'like a shadow' over 1984 rape victim's life

Mitchell's new appeal was heard today and, described as "hopeless" by one of the presiding judges, it was dismissed in less than an hour.

That means there is no longer any suppression orders preventing the Herald from publishing details about the 1973 attack.

Finally, after months before the courts and thousands of dollars spent on legal fees, theHerald can tell Sarah's story.

It was March 20, 1973.

Sarah was just 21, home alone.

She and her husband were living in an apartment in Devonport and were set to move into their first home.

He was at work and she was between jobs so was home during the day.

Sarah popped down to the dairy about 80m from the apartment to pick up some supplies.

During that innocuous trip, likely for a loaf of bread or bottle of milk, she chanced upon Colin Jack Mitchell.

Mitchell, who had turned 15 just 19 days earlier, had taken the ferry from Auckland to Devonport and made his way to the woman's street.

She'd later be told that he spied her, followed her into the dairy and then home.

What happened next is etched into Sarah's mind, and no length of time will ever erase it.

"He forced entry into the flat on the pretext that he wanted to find someone and then asked to use the phone," she said.

"At the time he was dialling I was thinking 'this is not good, this is not good' and I asked him to leave and he got really violent and he attacked me.

"He jumped on me and he bashed me up and he tried to throttle me and then he raped me.

"I pleaded for my life, I was absolutely terrified, I was absolutely sure I was going to die I had no doubt about it.

"After the rape he took me outside and he was taking me somewhere, I don't know where, and we got to the front gate and I just hot-footed it down the road yelling and screaming."

Sarah was raped by Colin Mitchell in her own home, in broad daylight in 1973. The Herald had a 43-year-old suppression order lifted to tell her story. Photo / Greg Bowker
Sarah was raped by Colin Mitchell in her own home, in broad daylight in 1973. The Herald had a 43-year-old suppression order lifted to tell her story. Photo / Greg Bowker

Sarah's screams were heard by painters working down the road, who came running to help her.

"I managed to blurt out to them what had happened and they chased him," she said.

"I got to the dairy and they called the police."

Within minutes police had locked down Devonport, and soon after that Mitchell was captured, hiding around the back of the ferry building.

It's been 45 years since her rape and when Sarah agreed to speak to the Herald she was clear that while it was brutal and affected her deeply - her life had not been defined by the "damaged" and "pathetic" offender.

"The sum total of my life is so much more than that one ugly hour way back in 1973," she said.

"I think that one of the things that it impacted is that my life fractured.

"From the time of the rape it was like I left behind the 21-year-old who'd been raped and I moved on as kind of a disconnected soul and I put it away, I shoved it down, I didn't want to think about it too much and kind of went into a bit of a denial.

"For the first six months I kind of retreated in some ways… But that's survival and you have to do that."

Sarah credits her husband with getting her through the immediate aftermath, and for his patience, support and resilience in the years that followed - years where she had to lock the bedroom door at night, when she would send him out in the dark to investigate every noise, terrified Mitchell had come back.

One of the first things he said to her after the rape has stuck her in mind, and helped her through the darkest times.

"He spoke about the love we shared, and that what had happened had no place in our marriage," she said.

"That was a really good basis for me to move on in our marriage with him beside me - he's the best counsellor I've had."

It took her 11 years to go to professional counselling, and since then she's worked as a victim advocate, determined to help others heal from similar experiences.

Because of that, when Mitchell was arrested for the 2017 offending, Sarah was able to reach out to the victim - then 23.

She became close to the younger woman, and supporting her and her mum was another reason she was in court for Mitchell's trial.

"It was only one hour in my life and yes it was an ugly hour and there were reverberations for sure, I'm not denying that," she said.

"But for the whole sum of my life, the positives within my marriage, my children, my family, my whānau, friendships - have just far outweighed that.

"When you weigh up happiness versus misery… it's about being whole and healing the fracture."

Sarah was in the gym with her husband when she first heard about Mitchell's arrest in early 2017.

His crime, 14 days earlier, shocked the nation.

He'd kidnapped a 23-year-old woman as she walked home from the annual Pride parade in Ponsonby.

She was intoxicated - and he was prowling.

She had no chance when Mitchell locked eyes on her.

He managed to get her into his car and drove her out to a quarry at Riverhead.

There, he assaulted her - beating her around the head with a pool cue he used for professional tournaments.

Police say Mitchell intended to rape the woman, but she got away.

He drove off into the night, but was arrested two weeks later at his Onehunga flat.

Through DNA found at the Riverhead scene, Mitchell was identified as the man who raped a woman in Avondale in 1992.

Sarah had followed the case in the news, but never for a moment thought it would be Mitchell. Again.

She knew he'd been jailed for another five years after raping a 19-year-old woman at a Mt Eden railway yard.

But so much time had passed, so the cretin didn't even cross her mind as she watched and read news reports on "the Riverhead quarry attack".

Then an arrest was made and as she pedalled away on her exercise bike at the gym, the alleged offender's face flashed up on the screen.

"His face appeared... I knew instantly, even before they said his name," she said.

"That was just gut-wrenching."

She screamed out in fright, profanities escaped her lips, alerting her husband.

"I had to go for a long walk after that," Sarah said.

So why did Sarah go back to court, back to see her rapist again?

She'd been supporting the quarry victim, for a start, but she also needed to see Mitchell again.

"I'd asked to meet him in the early 90s, I'd written a letter to him," she said.

"I had at the time been doing some work on offender-victim reconciliations - not that I wanted to have any reconciliation with him.

"But I thought meeting with him would... it just felt right, I just wanted to let him know that I had not faded away, that I was a strong warrior woman.

"But he didn't want to meet me.

"For me, going to court was to honour and support the women who gave evidence as well as honouring myself.

"I was there to stand tall and stand strong and stand proud."

Mitchell during his trial in the High Court at Auckland earlier this year. He denied the Riverhead attack and an earlier rape in 1992. NZ Herald photograph
Mitchell during his trial in the High Court at Auckland earlier this year. He denied the Riverhead attack and an earlier rape in 1992. NZ Herald photograph

When the 2017 and 1992 victims gave their evidence - both raw and chilling accounts of Mitchell's offending - Sarah had to leave the courtroom.

The only people allowed in court when a victim of a sex crime testifies is the judge, jury, Crown and defence lawyers, journalists and police.

Sarah would sit outside reading her book, waiting patiently to go back in.

"Seeing him in court was very powerful for me," she said.

"There was a sense of great relief that he was exposed as the damaged, opportunistic predator that he was and that the truth was out and that it had been acknowledged - so there was validation."

Sarah always feared Mitchell would offend again.

She never imagined his sexual atrocities would span more than four decades.

"I was always fearful of him coming back for me because it had happened in my own home, and for some reason I just thought that he was going to come back for me.

"There was a huge sense of concern and probably real worry that he was going to hurt other women.

"It sickened me [when he reoffended] and it hurt because you don't know what other women are going through but you have a sense of the bewilderment, the chaos, the loss of life as they knew it and also a sense of recovery not being a totally easy path to take.

"It has at times got a real burden to it."

She met the victim from 1984 at Mitchell's sentencing - after the trial the pair were put in touch and have forged a strong connection.

Meeting for the first time in the High Court foyer about an hour before Mitchell was sent to prison indefinitely, the women hugged and cried.

The feeling that they shared something most people cannot, and hopefully will not, understand was palpable.

Sarah said meeting and starting friendships with the other survivors had been a help and a comfort.

"For me it's been a very powerful interaction because I think walking alongside them," she said.

"It's hard to put into words… I think that I have probably got back more than I have given in many ways… Their strength and courage has been incredibly, incredibly empowering for me as well."

Sarah has divided her life, as it relates to Mitchell, into chapters.

Chapter one was her rape, chapter two the trial and chapter three was the beginning of her recovery.

Mitchell will always be a part of her story, but Sarah is now ready to close that book.

"For me, it's been about learning to live with it, with the rape, with the experience in peace rather than in conflict," she said.

"Holding it away from you, well, holding it away from me didn't work - I had to find a way of living with it so I in some ways learned to use the experience.

"It didn't define me, it doesn't define me - it gives me substance."

Sarah and her husband have had a good life and have not let her rape in their first home together destroy them. Photo / Greg Bowker
Sarah and her husband have had a good life and have not let her rape in their first home together destroy them. Photo / Greg Bowker

Her fear that Mitchell will harm another woman is now a thing of the past, given he will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

Her fear of him was further allayed when she saw him in court - a combination of age, bladder cancer and diabetes ageing her rapist demonstrably.

"Who I saw there was a pathetic sick old man," Sarah said.

"And the power balance was reversed.

"For me the reality is that I'm the winner and he's the loser.

"I've moved through being a victim, I've moved through being a survivor and I'm me now, I feel liberated from him, liberated from the experience and yeah, living the dream."

* Sarah is not her real name. Strict suppression orders around survivors of sexual crimes prevent her from being identified.


If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the Sate to Talk confidential crisis helpline on: 0800 227 233 (08002B SAFE).

Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list.

If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.

ON AIR: Simon Barnett and Phil Gifford Afternoons

12PM - 4PM