'Witness C' has been sentenced to more than eight years in prison for lying at the double-murder trial of David Tamihere 27 years ago.

The secret jailhouse witness, whose identity remains hidden, gave "powerful" evidence in the 1990 jury trial, which led to Tamihere being found guilty of killing Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen.

Tamihere, who described Witness C's perjury convictions as a "major" moment in his case, has always professed his innocence.

Justice Christian Whata sentenced Witness C to eight years and seven months' imprisonment today in the High Court at Auckland in what he agreed was a "truly exceptional" and rare court case.

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The maximum sentence for perjury to procure a conviction is 14 years' imprisonment.

After an August trial in the High Court at Auckland, a jury found him guilty on eight perjury charges.

However, he was found not guilty of obstructing the course of justice, which pertained to his 1995 affidavit recanting his testimony.

Justice Whata revoked Witness C's name suppression today, but an ongoing interim suppression order was made pending the resolution of Witness C's intended appeal of his convictions.

The judge said Witness C's offending had a "high level of premeditation" given the scope and detail of the evidence.

He said the perjury "reveals a level of callousness" and was a "brazen assault on the foundation of our criminal justice system".

Witness C held a "thumbing your nose attitude towards the state" and displayed no remorse, Justice Whata said.

Acting prosecutor Richard Francois said Witness C's offending was the "most serious case of perjury that has ever come before the New Zealand courts".

"This verdict upholds the integrity of the justice system and the importance of the truth on the judicial process," he said.

"The reputation of a nation, defendants, families, the rights of the defendant to affirm his allegiance to society... can be stripped away by evidence falsely presented in a court of law.

"If a man can say whatever he likes in court and not the words he truly feels, then what has he got? This man's at war with the truth, and the justice system is but one of his victims."

Tamihere was found guilty of killing Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen. Photo / File
Tamihere was found guilty of killing Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen. Photo / File

Francois also said the evidence heard at Witness C's perjury trial showed police were complicit in fabricating the evidence.

However, Justice Whata said: "The evidence before me did not suggest, and I'll make this very clear, that the police were complicit."

He added that there was no evidence that it was an "orchestrated campaign" or that Witness C "held a vendetta" against Tamihere.

Witness C's lawyer Adam Simperingham said his client "gained nothing from the perjury" and rebutted the claim that police were entwined in the corruption of the judicial system.

He said there was little to no chance Witness C will commit perjury again, simply because he would not be afforded the chance.

"He has very little credibility and no prosecutor is ever going to call on him to give evidence," Simperingham said.

Witness C was one of three secret witnesses who gave evidence for the Crown during Tamihere's trial.

It is understood one of the secret witnesses has since died, and the other now lives overseas.

The prosecution of Witness C was laid by former prison inmate and "jailhouse lawyer" Arthur Taylor, and aided by researchers Mike and Jenny Kalaugher.

Taylor told the Herald after the trial that he wanted to "send a loud, clear message to jailhouse snitches".

Murray Gibson prosecuted the case at trial on Taylor's behalf.

Despite Witness C's perjury convictions, Tamihere's murder convictions stand after he has already exhausted the judicial appeals process when he was denied leave to appeal to the Privy Council in 1994.

Witness C's jailhouse evidence

Witness C claimed Tamihere confessed to the killings while the pair were cellmates. Tamihere has always denied the conversation took place.

Hoglin, 23, and Paakkonen, 21, disappeared in April 1989 after leaving their car at the end of the Tararu Stream road in the Coromandel Ranges.

Tamihere, who also has other violence convictions including the 1972 manslaughter of 23-year-old Mary Barchamm, admitted stealing the Swedes' car but denied having met them.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders and eventually released from prison in 2010.

In 1991 Hoglin's remains were discovered by pig hunters in bush near Whangamata, about 70km from where the murders were alleged to have taken place.

Witness C had also testified that Tamihere told him the bodies were dumped at sea.

Paakkonen's remains have never been found.

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

However, police found some of the Swedes' possessions at Tamihere's home, and witness accounts from trampers also placed a man matching Tamihere's description with the young couple.

Tamihere being escorted by prison guards during his trial 27 years ago. Photo / NZ Herald
Tamihere being escorted by prison guards during his trial 27 years ago. Photo / NZ Herald

In 1995, Witness C recanted his evidence and swore an affidavit stating he lied during the trial after police offered him "major inducements", including $100,000.

"It was the money I wanted," Witness C said in the affidavit, which was formed with the help of Tamihere's brother, former Labour Cabinet minister John Tamihere,

One of the alleged inducements was also helping Witness C at his next parole hearing.

Detective Inspector John Hughes, the officer in charge of the murder case, did support Witness C's parole hearing but parole was denied.

Witness C later confirmed the authenticity of the affidavit, which was leaked to the press, in a nationally televised interview with the late Sir Paul Holmes in 1996.

However, he recanted what he said just weeks after the Holmes interview.

Then in June 2007, Witness C wrote a letter to Tamihere, which read that the "trial evidence was all false and fabricated by the police anyway".

David Tamihere being led in to court during his 1990 trial. Photo / NZ Herald
David Tamihere being led in to court during his 1990 trial. Photo / NZ Herald

However, Witness C then said the three separate admissions that his testimony was false were made while he and his family were under threats from fellow prisoners because of his reputation as a prison "nark".

"I was too busy trying to stay alive - I didn't worry about the contents of the statement," he said at his trial.

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

Timeline

1989: Paakkonen and Hoglin disappear on 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 sentenced after being found guilty of perjury and not guilty of perverting the course of justice