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Too many loose ends to ignore Crewe case

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Arthur Allan Thomas, who was twice convicted of the 1970 Crewe murders but pardoned in 1979. Ian Wishart's book points the finger at a former detective, the late Len Johnston. Photo / Simon Baker.
Arthur Allan Thomas, who was twice convicted of the 1970 Crewe murders but pardoned in 1979. Ian Wishart's book points the finger at a former detective, the late Len Johnston. Photo / Simon Baker.

A correction has been appended to this story. See below.

Ian Wishart's latest book, Arthur Allan Thomas: The Inside Story, comprehensively debunks myths which have condemned Len Demler as the murderer of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe.

The book exposes the fragility of conclusions drawn by police on the most inane and spurious information; demonstrates an astonishing gullibility of two juries and a total lack of credibility as far as the police case against Thomas is concerned.

I was the detective constable who searched the garden in the Crewe home compound during the initial stages of the investigation into the disappearance of Jeanette and Harvey in June 1970, where a search four months later revealed a .22 cartridge case.

I accept unequivocally the findings of the royal commission into this homicide, that the cartridge case was planted by police and that this evidence and other evidence were fabricated.

I also deny planting the cartridge case.

Paragraph 350 of the royal commission report is instructive: We [the royal commission] conclude - Mr Hutton and Mr Johnston planted the shell case, exhibit 350, in the Crewe garden, and that they did so to manufacture evidence that Mr Thomas' rifle had been used for the killings.

Which begs the question: Why didn't the police commence prosecutions against these men?

It is my view that the police then, as they do now, suffer greatly from the misconception that preservation of the police is more important than preservation of the rule of law.

It is my belief that the enormity of the implications of fabricated evidence on the scale perpetrated in the Thomas case was and remains too horrendous for the police, politicians and many of the public to contemplate.

But failure to address these criminal actions merely strengthens the sub-culture of self-preservation which pervades the police - manifest in the recent case where an innocent person, Halatau Naitoko, was accidentally but negligently shot by police. The failure of the Government to demand the case be considered by a court of law is an indictment on our system of justice and provides comfort to the police that they are above the law.

The Crewe killings were my first homicide where I was assigned as a member of the scene detectives. Bruce Hutton was the detective inspector in charge of the inquiry.

Later in my career as my character and style of policing cast me as a bird of similar feathers, I would work with Hutton on the Auckland District Drug Squad and later as a sergeant on the North Shore. I embraced Hutton's style, his ethos. We had a similar attitude to work and off duty play. We became colleagues and mates.

I owe Bruce Hutton my job as a cop. He saved me from the guillotine. No question. But then I saved him once. That is how it was, Deep in the Forest.

A detective sergeant, John Hughes, was also assigned to the Crewe homicide. Like Hutton, Hughes was ruthless. Later in my CIB career and in the Armed Offenders Squad, I would work very closely with Hughes. As my style of police evolved, it also emulated that of Hughes. We had a similar attitude toward villains.

Whereas Hutton had saved me from the guillotine, I saved Hughes - more than once. As I look back however, Hughes did not save me but other squad members did - as I did them. That is how Hughes arranged things. Cunning, one might say. As a team we worked and played hard. As a detective on Regional Crime Squad with Hughes as the NCO, we terrorised those who terrorised decent people. I came to believe that ours was a just cause and that our means justified the ends.

They were legends in their own time who lived up to their macho reputations. By the time I had been commissioned as an inspector, I had taken on the mantle of those who moulded me. I too was Deep in the Forest (google Ross Meurant Deep in the forest) but in my case the seeds of doubt had been sown in me during a heretical six-year pilgrimage to the University of Auckland.

These men, all of whom I was to work and socialise with , at some stage of the Thomas case had significant input to what the police did and how problems which arose were handled. These men were all Deep in the Forest and were bastions of the police subculture.

Wishart, referring to an encounter with Hughes who was investigating the murder of Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen, writes: "Hughesy assured me the discovery of Hoglin's body dozens of miles away from where the secret witness had said it was - on the other side of a mountain range in fact and still wearing a watch police claimed they'd found two years earlier - did not materially alter the case against [David] Tamihere."

Juxtaposed against the background of the Beaver Ngamu High Court sequel, in which police interview tactics orchestrated by Hughes were the cause celebre for close escapes by police from the guillotine, these observations cast a dark shadow over one of the main leaders of police thinking and conduct on this homicide.

And what of Bob Walton, head of CIB at the time and later commissioner of police? There is no question in my mind I was pressured by Walton to 'modify' my evidence prior to appearing before the royal commission. But Walton and I clashed - seriously - during the 1981 Springbok tour and I concede that even today I lack the objectivity where he is concerned.

Wishart's report of Detective Sergeant Len Johnston's brazen arrogance collecting items for later use as evidence from Thomas's farm - pieces of wire, .22 shells and axle stubs - exposes a dark and scary side to our guardians. Through the book Wishart lays the ground for his claim that Johnston was actually the murderer and by his position on the inquiry team and proximity to Hutton, was able to influence an outcome which saw Thomas convicted twice of a double murder.

Wishart's conclusions are disturbingly possible in my view. The question of to what extent Hutton had the wool pulled over his eyes by Johnston is moot. Based on Wishart's debunking of transcripts and evidence previously recorded, I think Hutton could well have been fooled by his best mate.

Which means so too were the rest of the team deluded - but when one looks at the disgraceful tendency of several detectives to extrapolate signs of guilt by Thomas from irrelevant comments or actions, one can appreciate how these people lost their way.

The pardon of Arthur Allan Thomas means he did not commit the Crewe murders. For the record, I don't think he did either. At the very least, the Government should direct the inquiry into the killings be reopened. But then the issue of police fabricating the original evidence must be addressed. And that means the rule of the police being subjugated to the rule of law.

These days to me the preservation of the rule of law in my country is far more important than preservation of the police. Let justice be done even though the heavens fall.

Force Four:

Ross Meurant

The 63 year old former MP and police inspector was second-in-charge of the Red Squad during the 1981 Springbok tour. After leaving Parliament he was an adviser to NZ First. Despite a conservative image he backed legalising cannabis in his autobiography The Beat to the Beehive and voted for gay rights and abortion on demand.

Bruce Hutton

Led the investigation into the June 1970 murders of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe. A Royal Commission in 1980 found that Hutton and Detective Len Johnston planted a shell case to frame farmer Arthur Allan Thomas for the Crewe killings. Solicitor-General Paul Neazor advised police there was not enough evidence to prosecute. At 81, Hutton lives in retirement in South Auckland.

John Hughes

Died aged 73 in 2006. Hughes had a colourful police career, and was ruthless in securing convictions. Headed Operation Stockholm, the investigation into the murder of Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen in 1989. Super fit, he was a national boxing champion and later, an ultra-distance runner. Retired from the force in 1992 and worked as a private investigator.


- Ross Meurant lives abroad where he has business interests in Syria, Morocco, Iraq and East Europe.

CORRECTION AND APOLOGY TO GRAHAM PERRY:
The Weekend Herald of October 9, 2010, ran an article by former police
man and MP Ross Meurant entitled "Too Many Loose Ends to Ignore
Crewe Case" which wrongly said that Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham Perry had reviewed the Arthur Allan Thomas case and the conduct of his peers. The Weekend Herald accepts that Mr Perry did not review the Thomas case and apologises for any mistaken assumptions that may have been drawn from the suggestion that he did, and for any distress and embarrassment that the article caused to Mr Perry.

- NZ Herald

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