The man behind one of NSW’s most shocking murders will learn whether or not he is to be released from prison at the end of this month.
Neville Raymond Towner brutally raped and killed four-year-old Lauren Hickson at the Nepean River in Emu Plains, in Sydney’s west almost 30 years ago.
Then 23, he was the son of the young girl’s babysitter when he took her from her parents’ caravan.
He told police that he had pushed her head underwater to stop her screaming, then bashed her over the head with a rock, dumping her body in the river.
Towner was originally sentenced to life in prison for murder and sexual assault but in 2002 was resentenced to a 20-year minimum term, which made him eligible for parole in 2009.
Lauren’s mother, Jurina Hickson, said she was frightened of Towner being let out back into the community.
She said outside court that her daughter had the face of a “beautiful little angel”.
“She was just a little darling. If she was alive today she would’ve been 33, so therefore we didn’t get to see her get married or have children, we’ve been denied grandchildren, things that families do when their loved ones, children grow up,” Mrs Hickson told the media.
“But, no, Neville Towner took all of that away.”
NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin opposes Towner’s release.
But the court heard the Corrective Services Serious Offenders Review Council was unanimous in its view that Towner should be paroled.
State opposition leader Luke Foley said Towner should not be released.
“Anyone convicted of the brutal rape, torture and murder of an innocent four-year-old child should die behind bars. It is as simple as that,” he said.
“Towner should not get out of jail. The state has a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our society and it would be unable to discharge that duty if the likes of Towner were to go free.”
Now in his 50s, Towner appeared at the public hearing via audiovisual link wearing glasses and sporting a white beard.
Acting for the state, lawyer Brett Thomson said Towner was experiencing night terrors.
He said the killer had identified an ‘offence pathway’ in which negative thoughts about himself, depression and feelings of rejection and jealousy led to a sense of entitlement in using sex to gain control over someone.
“My understanding is that position hasn’t changed,” Mr Thomson said.
Towner’s solicitor, Michelle Simpson said her client was receiving treatment for his mental health issues.
Justice Wood said there were risks of increasing the institutionalisation of Towner by keeping him in custody.
It’s understood that if Towner were to be released from Long Bay jail he would go into a Community Offender Support Program housing facility, and would wear an electronic anklet.
He has been allowed out of jail on day-release to allow him to attend rehabilitation programs. Crime victims advocate Howard Brown urged the Parole Authority to keep Towner locked up for another year to allow him to finish the programs.
“There would be very little difference between Mr Towner being granted parole and going to a COSP, and being refused parole and continuing his treatment,” Mr Brown said.
He said a change.org petition against Towner’s release, which has so far gained more than 151,000 signatures “indicates that the public has some concern in relation to Mr Towner’s release”.
Mr Brown also used his address to plead with the public to leave Towner alone, if he is eventually released.
Mrs Hickson said outside court she was expecting her daughter’s killer to be released on parole.
“I just don’t want him coming after my family again,” she said.
“He’s a ticking time bomb.”
Lauren’s cousin Robert Miell, who is behind the change.org petition, urged more people to put their names to it in the lead-up to the Authority’s decision date.
“Everyone wants to see him stay in jail because of the severity of the murder. He took Lauren’s life away. He should never be released,” Mr Miell said.