History has remembered Detective Chief Inspector Bruce Hutton as the police officer involved in planting the bullet casings which saw Arthur Thomas convicted of murdering Jeannette and Harvey Crewe. In the Hutton family’s first ever interview, his daughters tell David Fisher they remember a different man - one who would never plant evidence.

The Crewes' family cat came home with Detective Chief Inspector Bruce Hutton. It was called Rasty.

While living in the Pukekawa house where her parents were later murdered, Rochelle Crewe would have tested Rasty's patience in the way all toddlers do with cats.

As Rochelle slept, Rasty apparently did what cats do on wintery nights. Witnesses told Mr Hutton how he would curl up on Jeannette Crewe's lap as she knitted on the sofa in front of the fire. He was there, Mr Hutton always thought, when Harvey Crewe's brains were blown out on June 17, 1970.

The cat moped around after Mr Hutton at the murder scene until the detective took pity and adopted her. At night, after 18 hour-long days leading the murder investigation, he would sit and consider Rasty.

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"By God I wish you could talk," he would say.

"It drove mum up the wall," recalls Erin O'Neill, one of Mr Hutton's three daughters. "She thought it was a bit spooky."

It's a story that bleeds colour into the black-and-white portrait that history has created of Mr Hutton.

When he died in March 2013, it was 43 years since he took up leadership of the investigation into the murder of the Crewes. It was a case which would polarise the nation - not least because of the rise of Mr Hutton in the public's eyes as a key suspect in planting evidence on which Arthur Thomas was convicted. Mr Thomas was eventually pardoned but Mr Hutton's stature as the villain of the piece grew.

That's not the man he was, say his daughters Erin O'Neill (58), Christine Watson (63) and Gail Townsend (65).

Ms Townsend: "There comes a point where enough is enough."

Ms O'Neill: "Dad always said to us 'you don't talk to the press'. You know what? It doesn't work because they don't stop."

This might be the first time Mr Hutton's daughters have deliberately gone against his wishes.

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Planting evidence?

"Dad wouldn't sell his soul for his job," says Ms O'Neill. "He was a very, very proud man. To cheat? He would not have got any satisfaction with that, when you know the sort of person he was.

"As far as Dad was concerned, once it had got to court it was up to them. That was his faith in the justice system." If someone went through the courts and was freed at the end, Mr Hutton told Ms O'Neill: "You just wait for them to come around again."

Bruce Hutton grew up outside Dargaville in a family with 21 children. His father had fought in the Boer War aged 17 and then been gassed in World War One. Mr Hutton left school aged 12, tried the army then - aged 17 himself - joined the police. He left for a period, then married and joined up again as he and wife Dorothy started raising their family.

Next door to their home in West Auckland there was an orchard. Other children in the neighbourhood enjoyed its bounty but the Hutton girls knew the fruit belonged to those who grew it. "That's how we were brought up. It was black and white. It was wrong or it was right. If it's not yours, it's not yours to take."

Ms Townsend remembers, at age 7, taking a packet of chewing gum from the local dairy. Mr Hutton smelled it on her breath and took her straight back to the store. "I had to work for them for a month without pay."

On a walk to the dairy, aged 9, Ms O'Neill found a handbag in a call box. She took it home and her father returned it to its owner who offered Ms O'Neill a 10 shilling reward. "No," said Mr Hutton. "She doesn't have that. She's only returning what's rightfully yours."

He instilled a regimented approach to life which saw shoes shining, discipline prized and a diligent rigour applied to all endeavours. His vegetable garden had dead-straight, immaculately-weeded rows and Mr Hutton's girls grew a little that way too - protected surrounds, environmentally safe. He made it clear, some boys - like unwelcome weeds - would not be tolerated.

For all apparent rigidity, Mr Hutton loved Christmas and as Father Christmas would sneak about the night before. Mrs Hutton would make Christmas cakes he would take to the prison. Ms Townsend: "Mum would say 'do I have to ice them or decorate them' and Dad would say 'how would you like to sit in a cold grey cell and have Christmas'."

They remember him as a fiercely intelligent man who shaved in the morning, singing loudly in Latin, and once had an ambition to be a surgeon at a time when university required resources far beyond the means of the sprawling family in which he was raised.

Once he left the house, he was a police officer. He worked hard, studied hard and rose through the ranks. He wasn't a talker. "He would listen and observe and when he spoke he would have weighed everything up," said Ms Townsend. "Dad would never arrest unless he was 100 per cent. He would tell me, 'you don't play with people's lives'."

This was the man who went to investigate the double murder at Pukekawa.

Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton, leading the police investigation, wrestles with a fresh problem as he leaves the Crewe homestead. Photo / NZ Herald Archive
Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton, leading the police investigation, wrestles with a fresh problem as he leaves the Crewe homestead. Photo / NZ Herald Archive

The daughters remember clearly the time following the murders. There was the heavy rain one August morning, recalls Ms O'Neill. Mr Hutton, pondering the downpour, said: "When you have rain like this, you never know what it's going to bring up." Jeannette Harvey's body emerged at Devil's Elbow in the Waikato River.

It was the first indication, she says, of a gun having been g used to kill the couple. The bloodshed in the house had sent the detectives down another track. "All they knew was they were looking for a machete," she says. "This is why they weren't looking for a cartridge case."

The daughters recall the genuine, intense concern Mr Hutton had during the time after the inquiry about some of those campaigning to free Thomas. Ms Townsend remembers her father's fear that his family would be targeted, and how she moved, married with two children, back into her parents' police house in Mangere in response to a perceived need for protection.

Mr Hutton came in the front door one night in a flurry, having driven past the family home and seen a blind a few inches above the sill. Inside, stark against the light of the room, were the necklines of family members above the couch nearest the window. To Mr Hutton they looked like targets. He insisted the family kill the lights and go to bed.

Personnel records released to the Herald through the Official Information Act show in 1973, then-Commissioner Sir Angus Sharp describing the Crewe inquiry as "one of the most involved ever undertaken by the police in New Zealand".

Mr Hutton was awarded a Certificate of Merit, with Sir Angus noting that "his devotion to duty over many years is well known and the diligence and zeal he showed in this case deserve special commendation".

"We never envisioned what happened after Dad died"

Along the way, Mr Hutton had found new love with Mary Plumley and he left the family home. He also left the police. A few years later, Mr Thomas was pardoned. From that time, Mr Hutton refused the National Party permission to erect its election billboards on the farm he owned in Mangere.

Life after the police was one of horse breeding and racing. "I think he missed [policing]," says Ms O'Neill. It did remain a significant part of his life. He sponsored a running trophy in Waitemata police district and would present the Hutton Cup annually.

Mary Hutton died of a heart attack on the Coromandel Peninsula and Mr Hutton later married for a third time, to Ivy, who survives him.

In his later years, Rochelle Crewe came forward asking Prime Minister John Key to reopen the case. For years, her photograph had hung on the wall in the Hutton home. Mr Hutton stayed in touch, through her caregivers, for years, and would have been saddened that the victims had taken a back seat to other controversies. "Through all of this, they have been forgotten. That's what dad didn't want," says Ms O'Neill.

Detective Inspector Andrew Lovelock, who led the review into the Crewe murders, visited Mr Hutton. Ms Townsend was told by her father that the questions focused on "regrets" and "if there was anything they could have done differently".

Mr Hutton told Mr Lovelock: "No, I've got my man." Until the day he died, he would say to Ms Townsend: "That's all right. I've got to meet my maker. So does he."

When Mr Hutton did go, in March 2013, the family felt the two-dimensional demonisation of him, which had bubbled along for decades, boiled over. They were exposed to a fierce public debate.

"We never envisioned what happened after Dad died," says Ms O'Neill. The eulogy at the funeral from now-Commissioner Mike Bush created a frenzy. "You couldn't mourn. You found out who your friends are and who you don't want to be bothered with anymore."

And then, in July 2014, came the findings of the review. It didn't support Mr Hutton's determined, 43-year long stance on Mr Thomas though it found significant evidence led back to the Thomas farm. Others should have have been investigated, it said, and the charge against Mr Thomas could not be sustained.

The police also finally conceded the cartridge was probably planted and, if so, by a police officer. Though the review levelled no charges against their former colleague, an independent review from David Jones QC said Mr Hutton should have been charged.

"It's like a knife going in," says Ms O'Neill. "It's like there is always something else.

When Ms O'Neill was told by police the Herald had sought her father's personnel file through the Official Information Act she sat down one evening - having talked to her sisters and mother - and emailed about the tragic "slandering of a man who served his country honestly and who believed in the justice system".

Now, 45 years after the murder of the Crewes, they have had their say. And there may yet be more to say.

"There's not many books written from the other side," says Ms O'Neill. "There will be a book written - it's already been started."

One day, she says, those who accused her father so strongly will die. One day she will be liberated, as others were when Mr Hutton died. "What has happened to Dad can happen to them too. I can say what I like."

Children love their parents, daughters believe their fathers - would you have the perspective to see clearly?

"Yes, because of the way he has raised us. It's injustice. And because justice has been such a part of our upbringing, it's the injustice that eats at you."