501 deportee case: After Australia kicked him out, Lionel Allan struggled to adjust in New Zealand

He was a fresh-faced, promising Kiwi child actor who parlayed a one-time appearance on Hercules into a recurring role in a hit teen drama.

But 15 years later, Lionel Allan’s face was plastered on prime-time Australian TV for a very different reason – an assault conviction and attempt at rehabilitation that put him in the middle of what had been the nation’s latest 501 deportee controversy.

Now, Allan, 39, has found himself back in a courtroom – this time in Auckland – to face sentencing after a drug relapse that resulted in a cluster of new burglary and theft charges.

Known as Lionel Wickliffe during his acting days, he played character Matt Te Ahi in TV3 teen drama Being Eve from 2001 to 2002.

His TV past is not something he talks about. He’s more apt these days to discuss his work with fellow 501 deportees, as an active member of a support group that meets in Auckland every Thursday, defence lawyer Nick Silich said outside the courtroom on Wednesday after Allan was sentenced to community supervision.

Allan pleaded guilty to a burglary charge from 2018 and a drink driving charge in 2019, along with burglary, theft and wilful damage charges from late last year. He was initially enrolled in a specialised Alcohol and Drug Court before picking up the most recent charges.

Auckland District Court Judge David Sharp referred obliquely during the sentencing hearing to the struggle to readjust Allan faced when he arrived back in New Zealand.

Allan moved to Australia in 2005, when he was 22 years old, to find work and to remove himself from the “party lifestyle” he had gotten into in New Zealand, according to Australian immigration court documents.

“However, he describes himself as being ‘on a path of destruction’; his friends were drug users and ‘party animals’, and he repeatedly lost his jobs,” the documents state, outlining arrests for theft, burglary and other charges between 2007 and 2011.

He started to “smarten up” after meeting his future wife – an Australian citizen – in 2009 but had relapses and in May 2013 was arrested for what would be his most serious charge. Court documents state that after a night out drinking in Sydney suburb Kings Cross, he reacted poorly, punching three men, after one of them made a disparaging remark about New Zealand.

“Mr Allan punched [the first man] in the face using his right hand with a closed fist,” an Australian judge recalled a year later, as he ordered Allan to serve a minimum two years’ prison for the assault. “This caused [the first man] to fall backwards and he landed on his back on the footpath and was unconscious.”

Allan then got the second man’s attention and punched him as he turned around before approaching the third man, punching him in the jaw as the stranger attempted to assist his unconscious friend, the judge noted.

The first man required surgery for a “severe traumatic brain injury” and suffered persistent memory and concentration issues a year on from the attack.

But the judge who sent him to prison also noted that Allan seemed remorseful for his actions and had taken steps to address his alcohol problem.

“He strikes me as, at core, a decent person with a lot of positive qualities,” Judge Sweeney said during the sentencing, noting that the defendant didn’t have a “persistent record of violence” and that the incident had “clearly been a wake-up call” for him.

Because he spent more than a year in prison, Allan was set to be deported after release but successfully lobbied the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia for a second chance in 2016. His wife, young child, mother and two sisters were living in Australia, the tribunal noted.

In June 2017, however, his home was raided and he was put in immigration detention after A Current Affair ran a 10-minute expose on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal promising to reveal the “savage thugs” and “cretins” who had managed to avoid deportation after feeding the tribunal “sob stories” and “porkies”.

The segment, titled “Gangster Paradise”, featured murderers, rapists and the mastermind behind one of the nation’s largest-ever ecstasy busts – some of whom went on to reoffend after being allowed to stay. Allan hadn’t offended again and his former TV career wasn’t mentioned. But muscular, tattooed and with made-for-TV looks, he found his mugshot used prominently in the story and in promotional material for it.

Allan’s supporters believed the segment prompted then-Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who had the power to overturn tribunal decisions, to personally take an interest in his case. Allan’s employer at the time, Julia Sampo, was among those who were incensed.

“At work, he displayed leadership qualities and was making his way to becoming a team leader, running his own job site and focusing on progressing his career,” Sampo, who ran a construction company with her husband, wrote on social media shortly after the segment aired. “Lionel was present in the life of his young baby, providing for his wife and making something of himself so that he could use his story to lead others in the right direction.

“As these events unfolded, I couldn’t help but feel that this programme fuelled a witch-hunt based on assumption, disguised by the notion of patriotism, pulling on the heartstrings of fellow Australians.

“How have we allowed for our Australian spirit to be crushed by journalists and politicians and looking for their next big story, at the detriment of a human being’s life?”

At Auckland District Court on Wednesday, Judge Sharp pointed to another supportive letter, this time from Allan’s new employer. As part of Allan’s community supervision sentence, he was allowed to leave his home during work hours so he can continue to earn for his family and pay $50 per fortnight in restitution to his latest victims.

He was ordered to pay $1500 for a trailer that was stolen and $300 for damage he caused to a Volvo. Other arrests, including an attempted theft from a store in which he was caught red-handed and the casing of a residence in which he was shown on CCTV looking through windows and trying to open doors, did not ultimately result in any financial gain, the judge noted.

“There’s some real positive aspects of your life that you’re able to point to,” Sharp added. “You’re someone who has the potential to make a consistent and long-term recovery.”

But he also noted that Allan again sits on a razor’s edge and could have ended up going “through that other door” of the courtroom that leads to a holding cell, then prison.

Outside the courtroom, Allan agreed that it’s time for a change. His wife, who lost her job after his “face was plastered all over the TV” in Australia, has since moved to New Zealand with their child to be with him. He wants to be a better person for them, he said.

“I suffer addiction badly. I’m an addict and a petty thief,” he acknowledged. “I just want to be an old man with kids and get on with my life.”

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