Over four days a jury and the Herald watched as a court relitigated the evidence of a man whose identity, for almost every New Zealander, will forever remain shrouded in secrecy. And in a stunning turn of events, a jury on Friday found that man guilty of perjury in one of the country's most gripping and puzzling court cases.

Witness C spent last week in the High Court at Auckland, listening to his 27-year-old evidence being recalled, and giving his own version of what happened during the 1990 double-murder trial of David Tamihere.

He was accused of perjury, which he denied, for what he had said all those years ago on the stand.

In December 1990 a jury found David Tamihere guilty of double-murder. Photo / File
In December 1990 a jury found David Tamihere guilty of double-murder. Photo / File

But on Friday, in a move that shocked many that were there in the courtroom, a jury decided he was guilty of lying when he testified under oath that Tamihere told him, in detail, while the pair were in prison together, that he'd murdered a young couple.

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Along with two other secret witnesses, one of whom is dead and the other overseas, Witness C's "powerful" testimony led a jury to find Tamihere guilty of murdering Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin, 23, and Heidi Paakkonen, 21, in 1989.

Their disappearance had sparked the biggest land-based search ever undertaken in New Zealand.

Tamihere always professed his innocence. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

He has a string of other convictions, including the 1972 manslaughter of 23-year-old Mary Barcham.

Tamihere had killed the Auckland stripper when he was an 18-year-old by striking her on the head with an air rifle.

He also had sexual assault and assault convictions after attacking two women in their homes in the 1980s.

He was on bail when he murdered the Swedish tourists.

But when Hoglin's body was discovered by pig hunters in 1991 in bush near Whangamata, about 70km from where the murders allegedly took place, Witness C's testimony became the subject of much conjecture.

Now that Witness C has been found guilty of perjury debate will linger as to what really happened between Tamihere and two Swedish tourists. Photo / File
Now that Witness C has been found guilty of perjury debate will linger as to what really happened between Tamihere and two Swedish tourists. Photo / File

Questions were quickly raised as to whether Tamihere was the killer.

While Paakkonen's remains have never been found, Witness C said Tamihere had told him the bodies were dumped at sea in the Firth of Thames.

A pathologist also concluded that Hoglin did not die from a blow to the head with a "lump of wood", as Witness C had testified.

The suspicion over Tamihere's guilt continued and in 1992 he appealed to the Court of Appeal. It was rejected.

Two years later he was denied leave to appeal to the Privy Council.

All the legal avenues of a retrial were closed. But in 1995 Witness C again brought Operation Stockholm back into the national forefront.

He recanted his evidence.

Hoglin, 23, and Paakkonen, 21, disappeared in April 1989 after leaving their car in the Coromandel Ranges. Photo / File
Hoglin, 23, and Paakkonen, 21, disappeared in April 1989 after leaving their car in the Coromandel Ranges. Photo / File

Tamihere's jailhouse 'confession'

Witness C told the court last week that he met Tamihere in prison during the 1980s.

"We basically lived in the same block together 24-7," he said.

"We started working out together and developed an association. We did other sporting activities together."

Witness C never mentioned the Swedes' murders, but, he said Tamihere began talking about the pair one day.

On the pair's cell wall was a large map of the Coromandel area.

"'The silly buggers were looking in the wrong place', or something to that effect," Witness C claimed Tamihere had told him.

"He told me he came across the Swedish couple in a Coromandel picnic area."

Tamihere wanted to show Hoglin the scenery, Witness C said.

"I think he said at some stage [that] he knocked the guy off. He said at some stage he'd disposed of the body at sea, which I learned later on was not true."

Details of the brutal killings were openly discussed, and Tamihere told the informant he'd also sexually molested Hoglin and tied him to a tree, Witness C said.

Tamihere then turned to assaulting Paakkonen, he added.

"All sorts of sexual debauchery you could think of, over a three-day period I think he said.

"I was disgusted. How he could be boasting of such things?"

But, Witness C said, Tamihere's crimes were almost witnessed by a group of trampers.

"He said he almost got caught - sprung, I think was the word he used - some campers had come across the clearing.

"Him and Heidi were sitting on a log. Heidi was terrified but didn't say anything."

The Swedes disappeared.

Tamihere was arrested and admitted he'd stolen the tourists' car. He was then linked, charged and found guilty of their murder - based on a host of circumstantial evidence, and the three testimonies of jailhouse informants.

Witness C's affidavit

As Tamihere served his sentence, Witness C picked up a phone.

On the other end of the line was then future Labour Cabinet Minister John Tamihere, David Tamihere's brother.

The pair spoke three separate times and on the August 25, 1995, Witness C swore an affidavit effectively confirming that he lied and gave false evidence five years earlier.

John Tamihere was the first witness called to the stand last week.

It was also the first time he'd seen Witness C since his brother's high-profile trial.

Former Labour MP John Tamihere, the brother of David Tamihere, gave evidence about Witness C's affidavit. Photo / File
Former Labour MP John Tamihere, the brother of David Tamihere, gave evidence about Witness C's affidavit. Photo / File

The former broadcaster said he helped prepare Witness C's affidavit, believing it would exonerate his brother.

"I was somewhat sceptical about the conversation, I was wondering whether there was going to be a bit on the end of it for some inducements," John Tamihere told the court.

"The evidence was in effect given to him by a senior police officer, and then went on to talk about the type of inducements that were offered to him," he said.

"The people involved in this case were the same people involved in the Arthur Allan Thomas case."

He believed Witness C's motivation for signing the affidavit was to "bring justice to a case where his evidence had led to a conviction".

"He wanted to alert everybody to the fabrication of evidence."

Having sat through the murder trial, John Tamihere said Witness C's testimony had a "significant impact" on the jury, adding that it allowed the jurors to "link the evidence together".

In the affidavit, Witness C stated that he signed the legal document "willingly and without coercion, without favour nor inducement of reward but at my own insistence and instigation".

He also affirmed that there were "big offerings" if he was interested in becoming a secret witness for police, including a sum of up to $100,000.

"I make this affidavit knowing full well that it will have serious repercussions for persons, myself included who were involved in the trial," it reads.

"I make this affidavit as I know that acts done and accepted by me prior to now affecting [Tamihere] were legally and morally wrong."

Swedish tourist Urban Hoglin was 23 when he went missing. Photo / Supplied
Swedish tourist Urban Hoglin was 23 when he went missing. Photo / Supplied

He said police told him about "the blood stains on the tent", which Tamihere had supposedly concealed in a hut or shed.

"I as (sic) told about sexual activities involving the female Swede after the male Swede's body was supposedly disposed of. I was told that a watch belonging to the male Swede was given by [Tamihere] to his son.

"I was told about trampers coming upon [Tamihere] and the two Swedes and that at such time the female Swede was visibly distressed. I may have been told also about a body being dumped at sea."

He said police wanted him to testify that "all of this had been told to me by [Tamihere]".

"It was the money I wanted," Witness C said in the affidavit.

One of the inducements was helping Witness C with his next parole hearing.

Police, in the form of Detective Inspector John Hughes, the officer in charge of the murder case, did go to Witness C's parole hearing in support of him.

But the informant's parole was denied.

Hughes, who worked on more than 40 other murder investigations, died in 2006. He was described by Police News at the time of his passing as "the consummate investigator".

"The fact of the matter is [Tamihere] never made any confession to me of any kind. [Tamihere] actually always maintained his innocence," Witness C wrote in the affidavit.

"By making this affidavit I realise that I maybe compromising my own best interests. Violent reaction from other prisoners is likely. Police and prison officers and other official persons maybe equally unforgiving. They may exert pressure on me through their contact within the justice system.

"No matter what the consequences of this affidavit maybe for me personally it is the interests of [Tamihere] that concern me most. I no longer want to be associated with the fabrication of evidence used by the Police in their case against [Tamihere]."

While the jury said Witness C had lied at the 1990 trial, it ruled that Witness C was not guilty of obstructing the course of justice.

It was the charge which pertained to the affidavit, with the jury essentially believing the affidavit over the murder trial testimony.

The Holmes interview

The country was gripped by the affidavit, it was making national headlines after John Tamihere released it to the press.

On July 17, 1996, Witness C was interviewed by the late Sir Paul Holmes.

It was a nationally broadcast interview on one of New Zealand's most popular and credible current affairs shows.

Witness C continued throughout the interview, which was played before the court this week, to retract his trial testimony and affirm the 1995 affidavit.

It followed a similar theme of remorse at a potential injustice.

The late Sir Paul Holmes interviewed Witness C about the affidavit on national television. Photo / File
The late Sir Paul Holmes interviewed Witness C about the affidavit on national television. Photo / File

Witness C told Holmes that his testimony was "playing on his mind" and "they definitely have an innocent man inside".

The famed broadcaster asked Witness C, whose voice was altered to protect his identity, that if he'd lied during the trial then what guarantees did he have that he wasn't lying now.

Witness C told Holmes that police had offered him "major inducements" and were aware his testimony was a lie.

"There was nothing on paper, it was all verbal, and I took their word for it," Witness C said of the proposed police deal.

"I never got anything," he told Holmes.

"He always maintained his innocence to me," Witness C said of Tamihere.

"I'm terribly sorry," he added.

David Tamihere next to a prison officer and his then lawyer Colin Nicholson, QC, during the trial in December 1990. Photo / File
David Tamihere next to a prison officer and his then lawyer Colin Nicholson, QC, during the trial in December 1990. Photo / File

Witness C retracts his affidavit

However, just a few weeks after the Holmes interview Witness C retracted his affidavit.

On August 8, 1996, he produced two handwritten statements to police, where he said the affidavit was formed under threats from fellow prisoners.

"They would kill me and if they didn't get me, they would butcher my elderly parents. I'm fully aware of how some of these gangs operate, and I took the threats seriously," he wrote in the statement, attached to an Independent Police Conduct Authority report obtained by the Herald.

Witness C said the prison muscle required him to say that police had offered him inducements, $100,000 in cash, and that he lied at trial.

In another statement by Witness C, he apologised "for bringing into question the integrity and the credibility of the police".

"At the same time I would like it noted it all came about due to a life-threatening sequences of events. That still concerns me and smoulders on my memory with unspeakable anguish," he wrote.

"I know beyond question there was no improper conduct by police investigators regarding myself and the evidence I gave."

A statement to the IPCA, signed by Witness C on August 8, 1996 read: "I want to say that the affidavit is not true. I want to say that I was not offered any inducements to give false evidence".

Detective Inspector John Hughes outside the High Court on December 6, 1990, waiting for the verdict in David Tamihere's trial. Photo / File
Detective Inspector John Hughes outside the High Court on December 6, 1990, waiting for the verdict in David Tamihere's trial. Photo / File

The fear of retribution as a prison nark also led to the phone calls to John Tamihere, Witness C said this week.

"I was assaulted, I was forced to make a phone call to Mr John Tamihere and say that the evidence was a whole lot of rubbish.

"It was a difficult situation to be in, it was a dangerous situation to be in . . . I was too busy trying to stay alive - I didn't worry about the contents of the statement," he said, adding fellow prisoners would stand over him as he made the calls.

"There was only one thing on my mind at that particular time, that was keeping myself and my family safe."

Witness C's lawyer, Adam Simperingham, said, recalling a statement from Tamihere, that "in prison circles narks are considered lower than paedophiles".

Prosecutor Murray Gibson asked Witness C why he didn't use the "wonderful opportunity" to tell the whole country he was under threat from fellow prisoners when Holmes interviewed him.

"I didn't want to die," Witness C replied.

David Tamihere was convicted of the murders and released from prison in 2010 after serving 20 years. Photo / Jason Oxenham
David Tamihere was convicted of the murders and released from prison in 2010 after serving 20 years. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The letter

Then more than a decade later, doubt was again cast on the case.

Witness C wrote Tamihere a letter in June 2007 stating the "trial evidence was all false and fabricated by the police anyway".

But, while he wrote the letter, he didn't post it, he said.

He again claimed he was threatened by the same prisoners as in the mid-1990s.

"They were the same ones, they came into my cell wanting me to write this letter," he said.

"'He's a nark and should be killed, what the hell are you doing helping the enemy?'" Witness C said other prisoners thought of him.

During the trial last week Witness C was reluctant to mention in open court the names of the prisoners he said were threatening him, out of fear of further retribution.

However, under cross-examination from Gibson, Witness C was told to "man up" and confirm his original testimony was fabricated.

"Everything I said at that trial was told to me by [Tamihere]," Witness C rebutted.

"The reality is, Witness C, that you lie so glibly and effortlessly, isn't it?" the lawyer said.

Witness C replied: "In certain respects I feel sorry for you guys. You got dropped in the deep end on this by another prisoner [Arthur Taylor]."

The perjury case was laid as a private prosecution by Taylor, Witness C's long-time fellow prison inmate and "jailhouse lawyer".

"[Tamihere] maintains his innocence and has always maintained his evidence," Gibson said.

"A lot of them do," Witness C quipped.

"But even the highest courts in New Zealand have found him guilty."

"Guilty on your fabricated evidence, Witness C," Gibson replied.

Tamihere was eventually released from prison in 2010 after serving 20 years.

His murder convictions are likely to stand after he exhausted the judicial appeals process after he was denied leave to appeal to the Privy Council.

The case was brought forward as a private prosecution by serial prison litigant Arthur Taylor. Photo / File
The case was brought forward as a private prosecution by serial prison litigant Arthur Taylor. Photo / File

Timeline

1989:

Paakkonen and Hoglin disappear on the Coromandel Peninsula

1990: Tamihere convicted of murdering the Swedish travellers

1991: Hoglin's remains found near Whangamata

1992: Court of Appeal rejects Tamihere's appeal

1994: Tamihere denied leave to appeal to the Privy Council

1995: Witness C swore affidavit retracting his evidence

1996: Witness C retracts his retraction

2010: Tamihere released on parole

2016: Private prosecution alleges Witness C lied at Tamihere's trial

2017: Witness C found guilty of perjury and not guilty of perverting the court of justice