Error of Judgment
This is a guest post by Ross Meurant:
The 1980 Royal Commission of Inquiry into the conviction of Arthur Allan Thomas for the murders of Jeannette and Harvey Crewe in June 1970 came about after then Justice Minister Jim McLay heeded the clarion of injustice and convinced Prime Minister Rob Muldoon to initiate an independent investigation.
After hearing the witnesses whom it deemed had relevant evidence and subjecting them to cross examination, and after scrutinising direct evidence such as documentation and in particular ballistic evidence from experts independent of the DSIR – one scientist from that State agency was thoroughly discredited during its hearings – that Royal Commission arrived at a determination that two police officers had fabricated evidence to secure the conviction of Thomas. These comprehensive and specific edicts were handed down by men of impeccable standing, all three of them totally independent of the police.
It is a sad indictment on the police that they continued to harass and investigate Thomas after the pardon Muldoon’s Government bestowed upon him. Police Commissioner Bob Walton was called before the Royal Commission and was rebuked for allowing detectives to try to dig dirt on Thomas after he had been declared not to have committed these crimes and the country’s top cop apologised for this error of judgment and pledged that Thomas would not be harassed further.
The police then went into denial. That is, they refused to accept the findings of the Royal Commission and were so contumacious in their rejection of sanction by a higher authority that they refused to prosecute Bruce Hutton, the head of the Crewe inquiry team and the sole survivor of those named as being a fabricator of evidence in that investigation.
Subsequent to this tumultuous event in New Zealand’s judicial history, the Solicitor General of the day decided there was no prima facie evidence to support charges against those named by the Royal Commission as being the perpetrators of crimes against Thomas.
You might lament that this was unbelievable. Today as a former junior detective on the Crewe homicide, subsequently an inspector in the police and later a former lawmaker – 9 years as a Member of Parliament - I find that decision by that Solicitor General to be an error of judgment and not only unjustifiable but insulting to the integrity of my country. It is as if the Solicitor General considered everyone else to be fools.
Recently the Crewe case has raised its ugly head yet again. In a damning critique – the recently-released book All The Commissioner’s Men – author Chris Birt reveals evidence previously not known by most and not put before any of the legal forums which enquired into the murders of the Crewes. Two examples suffice:
The first is that Len Demler – Jeanette Crewe’s father and the original police suspect for the murders – lied about not having a 410/.22 combination shotgun-rifle in his possession prior to the murders. Birt located police job sheets which demonstrate the police knew of this yet they never put that evidence before any court proceedings. Nor was this evidence put before senior detectives conducting an overview of the case. Because they did not know of this suppressed, crucial evidence they discounted Demler as a suspect, understandably but erroneously in my view.
The second disclosure by Birt was that police had gathered evidence about the condition of a one third-full milk bottle found in the Crewe kitchen. An experiment by Dr Graham Fox proved conclusively that the milk in question must have been taken to the property at least two days after the murders were committed. This is relevant to the vexed question of whether baby Rochelle was fed during the five days she languished in her cot from the time of the death of her parents on 17 June 1970 until the police arrived in the late afternoon of 22 June. The evidence of the fresh milk further supports the disputed sighting of a woman outside the Crewe home over this period.
Birt’s disclosures and pressure from other parties precipitated last week’s announcement by Assistant Commissioner Malcolm Burgess that the police were again looking into aspects of the Crewe case. He made no reference to the milk issue or the firearm issue referred to above but Mr Burgess did observe in a media statement that "The Police Commissioner (Walton) and the Solicitor General both ruled the Royal Commission was wrong."
Unbelievable you might again think! After 32 years the police as an institution are still in denial! They still think Thomas murdered the Crewes. They ignore the rebuke Walton attracted when he was unceremoniously told by the Royal Commission that the effect of the pardon was the Thomas did not kill the Crewes and that the police were to stop investigating him.
The media statement from Mr Burgess also ignores the fact that 18 months after the Thomas Royal Commission, the Court of Appeal ruled that it was entitled to make those findings, which stand in law to this day. That court, the highest in the land at that time, rejected the appeal from Hutton and the family of the late Len Johnston, the other detective the Royal Commission fingered as a fabricator of evidence.
Mr Burgess is the same man who defended the bizarre operation against Mr Kim Dot Com, embracing as it now does illegalities by the police and clandestine co-operation with the FBI which ultimately occasioned Justice Winklemann to call the police to heel. Mr Burgess was also the police public face of one of the most bizarre agent provocateur episode few western democracies would every have encountered – the Red Devils saga which earned stinging rebuke of illegal behaviour from Judge France. In my view, these command decisions were errors of judgement
It seems to me Mr Burgess has now exacerbated his problems by placing his faith in former Police Commissioner Walton, whom it has now emerged was complicit in supporting the original acts perpetrated by Detective inspector Hutton and Detective Johnson.
Over the weekend Mr Birt disclosed that he had uncovered more police documentation which identifies that it was Walton himself who gave the order for police to destroy crucial exhibits pertaining to the Thomas case, although he denied this on two separate occasions in sworn testimony at the Royal Commission. Birt says Walton perjured himself on those occasions and any examination of the evidence he has would tend to confirm this assertion.
For example, a police job sheet Birt recovered records an interview with Hutton by one of the two senior overview detectives in which Hutton says:" It was Bob Walton’s decision. Walton told me to get rid of the exhibits."
Contrast this with Walton’s testimony, under oath before the Thomas Royal Commission: "I had nothing to do with the decision to destroy."
Birt observes that it is now easy to see why Walton went on to then announce there would be no prosecution of Hutton and Johnson. "He was donkey deep in the matter himself and had made the decision that the crucial exhibits were to be dumped," the long-time Crewe researcher says.
Coming as this disclosure does on top of evidence that Commissioner Walton tried to pressure Detective Sergeant Jack Collins to arrest the wrong man in the Olive Walker homicide – being conducted at the same time as the Crewe inquiry in 1970 – and then transferred Collins from the CIB when he refused to do so, and of Walton putting pressure on me to alter the evidence I was to give in the Thomas Royal Commission in 1980 from evidence I had previously given on oath, a shadow is surely cast on the integrity of the former top cop.
These issues must call into question recent inferences from those at police headquarters that the Thomas Royal Commission got it wrong and that their former colleague, and the Solicitor General of the day got it right. Another error of judgment for clearly the latter did not.
This is Mr Meurant's second blog post for TUMEKE!
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