Arthur Allan Thomas, in Christchurch to support David Bain
at his retrial in March last year. Photo by NZPA.
Police accused of framing Arthur Allan Thomas for the
Crewe murders in 1970 were never charged because the
Government's top legal adviser said there was not enough
evidence to justify a prosecution.
A previously secret report obtained by The New Zealand
Herald shows Solicitor-general Paul Neazor found witness
statements were not strong enough to mount a case that two
police officers planted a shell case from Mr Thomas' rifle in
the Crewes' garden to link him to the crime.
The accusation that police planted evidence to get a
conviction has been at the centre of controversy over the
case for the past 40 years.
A royal commission in 1980 said two police officers,
Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton and Detective Len Johnston,
buried the shell case to implicate Mr Thomas in the double
murder of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe at their farmhouse in
Pukekawa, south of Auckland, on June 17, 1970.
Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton, leading the police
investigation, leaves the Crewe homestead (in the
background) during the inquiry into the murder of the
Crewes in 1970. Photo by The New Zealand Herald.
It said their decision to fabricate evidence was "an
unspeakable outrage" which put an innocent man in jail for nine
Mr Thomas was eventually pardoned in 1979 after two trials, a
series of unsuccessful appeals and a wave of public protest
that led to the personal intervention of then Prime Minister
His National government set up the commission, which was led
by outspoken Australian judge Justice Robert Taylor.
After several months of often bitter hearings, marked by
angry exchanges between the judge and police lawyers and
witnesses, the commission's report laid the blame squarely
with the police.
But no officers were charged with planting the shell case,
angering Mr Thomas and his supporters.
A year later, Mr Neazor recommended no action be taken, but
until now his reasons have remained secret.
In his report to police in December 1981, Mr Neazor
recommended against prosecution for two main reasons, both
related to what he saw as weaknesses in witnesses' evidence.
He says the commission concluded the shell case had been
planted by the detectives just before its discovery in
October, because police had combed the garden in August.
If Mr Thomas had dropped the case on the night of the murder,
the commission ruled, police would have found it by the
August search at the latest.
Mr Neazor said a prosecution would struggle to prove this
claim, as it was based on the evidence of one witness, Graeme
Hewson, who helped police in their search.
Four police officers said the garden was not thoroughly
searched in August, and another said it could not have been.