Anna Leask

Anna Leask is a police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Crewe 'plant' cop dies

Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton at the murder scene during the investigation that led to the conviction of Arthur Thomas for the Crewe murders. Photo / File
Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton at the murder scene during the investigation that led to the conviction of Arthur Thomas for the Crewe murders. Photo / File

The policeman found to have planted evidence that led to the wrongful conviction of Arthur Allan Thomas for the murders of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe has died.

The Herald has learned that former Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton, 83, died in Middlemore Hospital late on Sunday night after a short illness.

Mr Hutton was the officer in charge of the homicide inquiry after the Crewes were murdered in their home at Pukekawa in Waikato in 1970.

Mr Thomas was convicted of the crime in two trials before being pardoned.

A shell case from his rifle was found by police in the garden outside the Crewe home, and was an important part of the evidence against him.

But after his pardon, a royal commission of inquiry strongly criticised the actions of police, concluding there was never any solid reason to charge Mr Thomas with the murders.

The commission report said: "Mr Hutton and Mr [Len] Johnston planted the shell case ... and they did so to manufacture evidence that Mr Thomas' rifle had been used for the killings."

Neither Mr Hutton nor Detective Sergeant Johnston, who died in 1978, were investigated by police over the allegations of wrongdoing or held to account.

The Solicitor-General at the time said there was not enough information to lay charges against them.

In 2010, a review of the original inquiry into the murders was ordered by police after a request from the Crewes' daughter, Rochelle. Until then, she had not spoken about the murders, which happened in the family home when she was a baby.

Last Thursday, police said the review was "ongoing" but a source close to the investigation said the findings would be released "very, very soon".

Mr Thomas' brother Des, who made a lengthy formal complaint to the police over the actions of the detectives involved in the case, was upset to hear Mr Hutton had died before it was resolved.

Des Thomas was disgusted that although the royal commission criticised Mr Hutton and others, they did not face any consequences for their actions.

"They should have acted straight away. It just shows that the New Zealand police do not want to investigate their own," he said yesterday.

"Hutton should have been charged straight after the commission. I think they wanted to stall and let people like Hutton die before they could be made answerable for their crimes."

Arthur Thomas could not be reached for comment yesterday.

There was no answer at Mr Hutton's family home.

It is understood Mr Hutton spent some time in hospital before he died, and was visited frequently by his family, friends and police colleagues.

Former detective Norm Sowter, a friend since the 1950s, visited Mr Hutton two days before he died.

"He was a top detective and will be missed by many of us. There is no question in my mind that they considered him fair and honest,' Mr Sowter said yesterday.

Mr Hutton had been "hounded" over the Crewe case for many years, he said. "He's never answered his critics, he's always wanted to protect the privacy of his family. But he was always happy in his knowledge that he knew the truth and he didn't have to prove it to anyone else."

Another former detective, Ron Chadwick, hoped the new review would finally give those involved in the case the answers they needed.

"I spoke to Bruce on one or two occasions about the case. He'd gotten used to it [criticism over his role] and it's a shame his side of the story wasn't put out there fairly at the time."

Mr Chadwick said it was a "great shame" that Mr Hutton would not hear the results of the review.

He hoped the case would finally be put to rest, and his mate would be vindicated.

The Crewe murders:


June 1970: Harvey and Jeannette Crewe murdered at their Pukekawa farmhouse. Daughter Rochelle is fed for five days by an unidentified woman.

August 16: Jeannette's body found in Waikato River. Harvey's body was found on September 16.

11 November: Farmer Arthur Allan Thomas, who lived nearby, charged with the Crewe murders.

March 1971: Jury finds Thomas guilty. Appeal dismissed, starts life term.

February 1973: New trial ordered.

April 1973: Thomas convicted again.

December 17, 1979: Thomas pardoned and freed. A royal commission of inquiry found he had been convicted on evidence planted by police officers.

- NZ Herald

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