”I’ve got a temper on me, believe me I have got a temper. I’ve got a mouth and I can use it and legally I can get a person back, which I have done over the years.”
That’s what murder accused Lynne Maree Martin, 63, told Australian police in 1999, before being convicted on two charges of malicious arson involving her then-partner’s vehicles.
Yesterday in the High Court at Gisborne, those remarks were read to a jury as the Crown wrapped up its case against Martin, who is accused of burning alive her 88-year-old father Russell Allison in a house fire she is alleged to have deliberately started at his Whatatutu farmhouse in the early hours of January 25, 2013.
A jury began hearing the case against Martin on November 6. It closed with a series of agreed facts, which included those remarks by Martin to New South Wales police more than 20 years ago - evidence allowed into this trial to show her propensity for arson.
The information about her past convictions added to an array of circumstantial evidence the Crown had accrued against Martin since the fire. Prosecutors said the strength of that evidence combined would prove the charge against her. Lawyer Rachael Adams said there was reasonable doubt and other potential suspects were never scrutinised the way Martin had been.
Even at the fire scene, Martin’s brother, John Allison, pointed police in her direction as a prime suspect. Allison said his father had told him about a disturbing phone call from Martin earlier that day.
Phone polling data and CCTV from streets and businesses showed Martin travelled from Tauranga to Ōpōtiki after the call and was within 10.6km of her father’s house the night of the fire.
However, it wasn’t until after an undercover operation between 2019 and 2022, and a separate operation involving the installation of listening devices at Martin’s house and in her phones that she was finally charged for her father’s murder on November 3, 2022.
Yesterday - day 11 of the trial - the jury heard the last of 10 covert recordings made by a young undercover officer known as “Millie”, who had been tasked in May 2019 with befriending Martin and her husband Graeme, and continued to have a close friendship with them until early 2021.
Codenamed Operation Ink, Millie’s involvement with the couple included her staying weeks and months in her campervan parked on their property in Tauranga and often working in their steam cleaning business. She eventually shared a predicament in which her estranged husband was blackmailing her for her share in their jointly owned Dunedin property.
The story, fabricated by police, enabled Millie to elicit information from Martin that showed she knew how to start a delayed ignition fire using a pot of oil or fat left on a stove element.
One afternoon when Millie was particularly upset and in tears about her (fake) situation, Martin demonstrated the technique on a camping stove in her backyard.
Millie said she now hated her ex so much she even wanted to commit the arson with him in the house.
Martin warned against it: “But listen, in the end - you don’t want a murder on your hands darling.”
“Do it but not with him in the house. Don’t you dar’. You make me that promise here and now.”
Wanting to keep their discussions about the arson secret from her husband Graeme, Martin first revealed the proposed method using the pot of hot oil by scrawling it on a note and passing it to Millie.
The officer later retrieved it from a rubbish bin and photographed it as evidence.
The disclosure led police to instruct a fire expert to test whether the fire at Russell Allison’s house could have been started using that same method. Results showed it was likely.
Cross-examining Millie about her role in Ink, lawyer Rachael Adams put it to her that Operation Ink - which ran for just under three years - could have been one of the longest in New Zealand. Millie alone had spent “thousands of hours” on the job and six other undercover cops were involved, Adams said.
The officer, whose name is suppressed under the Evidence Act, refused to comment on any questions relating to undercover procedure or protocol.
Adams put it to her that given the magnitude of the operation, Millie would have been under pressure to “come up with the goods”.
And, it was Millie who had initiated and encouraged conversations about arson. The officer said that wasn’t necessarily so - Martin had researched things on her own initiative and had coached her in how she could start and get away with the fire.
Adams noted that out of hundreds of recordings Millie claimed to have made during the operation, only 10 were presented in evidence.
However, there must have been others initiated by Millie about the fire that she didn’t record.
The officer said there weren’t.
”Are you giving us your assurance that after 157 days of living side by side, there were no other conversations?“
”Yes,” the officer said.
Adams put it to her that her job from mid-2019 until November 2022 was effectively to deceive the Martins by pretending to be someone she was not to gain their trust - even pretending to cry to elicit their sympathy.
The officer said, “Yes, that’s generally how undercover operations go.”
Adams said, “You were in essence a professional liar weren’t you?”
”I’m an undercover police officer,” “Millie” said.
The separately recorded conversations from phone bugs and installed household devices were presented to the jury by Detective Anna-Maree Morrison.
They included conversations between the couple while they were watching a Cold Case TV documentary about the fire that aired on November 3, 2020.
Martin remarked about how police had set their sights on her from the beginning of the investigation yet had no evidence against her.
Yes, she’d phoned her father that day but “there was no malice in it”. Russell had been in “good spirits”. She had been “a bit upset about a couple’a things but that was about it”.
She’d said the last time she’d been at Russell’s house was in March 2011.
While police claimed to have been able to put her at Te Karaka the night of the fire, “there’s still no proof that I did it and there never will be”, Martin said.
She said her phone “never went anywhere near the f***en [Waioeka] Gorge that night”. She had only gone as far as Ōpōtiki.
She suggested they drive her Nissan March car Blue Bee down to Gisborne to see how much petrol it used.
They discussed how her father “wasn’t as feeble as what they [police] said” and that he could’ve got up out of bed that night (and possibly been responsible for the fire himself).
Cross-examining the detective about the recorded conversations, Adams put it to her police had never sought to install recording devices in the homes and vehicles of any other potential suspects in the case - John Allison, John Fryer, or Anaru Stevens.
Detective Morrison said police needed an evidential basis before making an application to the court to deploy such surveillance.
In evidence last week, Martin’s husband Graeme Martin said his wife suspected from the outset that Millie could have been an undercover cop.
However, Morrison said yesterday that police had no concern the undercover officer’s identity was blown until comments Martin made in recorded conversations on November 10 and 11, 2020 - a week after the Cold Case programme aired.
Adams said the defence would not be calling any evidence. She and prosecutor Steve Manning are expected to give their closing addresses to the jury today. Manning has signalled his will take about two hours.
Justice Helen Cull is presiding.