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The Crewe Murders by Kirsty Johnston and James Hollings

There would not be a household in the country where someone does not have a strong opinion about the 1970 Crewe murders - this despite the more than 50 years since these dramatic events unfolded. Six high-profile books and several documentaries, films and a Royal Commission have subsequently raked over the evidence and facts. And now Massey University Press has published perhaps the most academic study to date, still with no conclusion as to who murdered the Pukekawa couple in their farmhouse in June 1970. Although the writers certainly advance the belief that it was not twice-convicted and subsequently pardoned Arthur Allan Thomas.

Johnston and Hollings have taken a dispassionate forensic approach to reviewing what remains of the evidence, poring over files and first-hand accounts, and interviewing the few people remaining who might shed new light on the tragedy. Theirs is a clinical portrayal of the events presented accurately and factually, yet still absolutely riveting. The result is an intelligent and compelling ‘whodunnit’ which I read in two consecutive late-afternoon sittings.

As one deeply interested in justice, I had read other accounts of the controversial Thomas case. I was also involved with the early dissemination of new facts emerging from the similarly controversial case of Scott Watson. Watson remains in prison despite what is widely considered a wrongful conviction. As a community journalist, I worked closely with Waiheke accountant Mike Kalaugher, who wrote the first book on the double murders, Marlborough Murder Mystery, which featured a forward by Arthur Allan Thomas. I was fortunate to subsequently meet and interview Scott’s parents, Chris and the late Beverly Watson. Like Thomas, Scott Watson appears to be a victim of a miscarriage of justice, of over-zealous policing leading to an early wrongful conviction. And there is a very distinct possibility that - as with the Crewe case – bungled forensics and the bending of facts to fit a person to match the awful crime may also be at play.

Famously, Arthur Allan Thomas’s wrongful conviction was the result of bungled policing and evidence tampering. Shortly after the second trial, the police buried crucial evidence at the Whitford tip, ensuring that – despite the public outcry – there would be no chance of a third trial or even a fair independent assessment. Additionally, the justice system – fearing a loss of public confidence if these facts came to light – bent the most basic of rules around independent jury selection and the fair access of the defence to pre-trial material. It was an atrocious abuse of power and manipulation of a jury. And, thanks to investigative journalist Pat Booth, the relentless aggression of defence lawyer Kevin Ryan, and the support of dogged QC Peter Williams, these facts were uncovered. Thomas was finally, after nine years of incarceration, pardoned and compensated.

I spent many years covering the re-interviewing of witnesses in the Watson case. All involved have essentially recanted their testimonies which – to a person – they said had been given under enormous duress and pressure from police to convict Watson. I’ve also interviewed a transport psychologist – an expert in developing foolproof methods of assessing the truthful evidence of first-hand witness accounts. This is particularly important in the Watson case as it was essential to understand the many consistencies which still existed in the differing testimonies of people who were not experts in maritime matters. It is my subsequent belief that Watson cannot possibly be guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. This raises the possibility that the real perpetrator remains at large, as is the case with the Crewe murders. If Arthur Allan Thompson did not do it, who did?

Additionally, while Thomas, by then unfit to stand, was later charged with several historic accounts of sexual abuse, so too was the main witness in Watson’s case – Guy Wallace. Wallace, the last person to see Ben Smart and Olivia Hope alive, maintained Scott Watson’s innocence until his own death by suicide. Wallace was just about to stand trial for an indecent assault against a teenage girl. The coroner’s report cites the suicide note he wrote to his father. Wallace publicly maintained his innocence and reiterated his belief that Scott Watson was also innocent. The parallels between these cases cannot be ignored. Perhaps Johnston and Hollings could now turn their brilliant forensic minds to proving Watson’s innocence.

Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

Massey University Press


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