A half-hearted apology

The Police Commissioner-in-waiting, Mike Bush, has begun poorly with his ''apology'' over remarks made last year in a funeral eulogy for retired detective inspector Bruce Hutton.

On the surface, Mr Bush did the right thing by apologising and everyone should move on.

On closer analysis, however, not just his initial remarks but also his apology this week are unsatisfactory.

A royal commission of inquiry found Mr Hutton planted evidence used to convict Arthur Thomas of the 1970 murders of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe.

Quite clearly, Mr Hutton in this instance failed in his duty as a police officer and failed to display integrity.

Yet, at Mr Hutton's funeral, Mr Bush - deputy police commissioner at the time - said his colleague was an officer whose ''integrity was beyond reproach''.

Some absolute language leaves no room for doubt.

Therefore, either Mr Bush was not telling the truth, or he rejects the emphatic findings of the royal commission.

Either option is not what should be expected from the most senior of our law enforcement officers.

Even if the remarks were meant to remain private, they insult the tribulations of Mr Thomas and those who have supported him.

Perhaps Mr Hutton's planting of the cartridge case was a one-off aberration, although the 1980 commission report specifically damns Mr Hutton on several grounds (the deceit was, as well, maintained through the various trials and Mr Thomas' 10 years in prison).

It might well be Bruce Hutton was a fine policeman with, on the whole, a praise-worthy career.

In the context of a funeral, Mr Bush might just about have got away with saying Mr Hutton was a man of integrity. The ''beyond reproach'', though, was beyond the pale.

Everyone understands the feelings of the family of the dead, and eulogies should avoid being hurtful.

Sometimes, matters are best left unsaid or glossed over. That might be perfectly appropriate.

But utterances that are untrue do a disservice to all concerned and to the very integrity of eulogies themselves.

No matter Mr Hutton's overall character and record, the Crewe case was a blot on his escutcheon. That is an undeniable fact.

Although it is troublesome the head of the police could knowingly make remarks that are untrue, whatever the context, everybody does err.

One error of this nature, as Police Minister Anne Tolley has said, might not be enough to disqualify him for the top police job. No-one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes.

Nonetheless, Tuesday's ''apology'' disappointed and compounded matters. It was edged in qualifications and half-hearted. Mr Bush comprehensively fell well short of what should be required.

This is what Mr Bush said on Tuesday: ''So in hindsight it was probably inappropriate. And if I caused any offence to anyone I actually apologise for that.''

There is no ''hindsight'' necessary. He should have known at the time not to describe Mr Hutton is a way that was blatantly incorrect.

There is, as well, no ''probably''. The comments were at the very least inappropriate. In fact, his comments were not just inappropriate but plain wrong.

Mr Hutton was not, and could not accurately be described as, an officer whose ''integrity was beyond approach''. Mr Bush still seems unable to admit that.

Further, the comments about possibly causing offence are weasel words all too common in so-called apologies these days.

He did cause offence. Why could he not admit that?

Mr Bush, for all his qualities and all his support from within the police, does not start with a clean slate and has ground to make up.

He would have been better off not to have made any apology than make his feeble remarks.

Perhaps, as Mr Thomas' brother

Des has asked for, he should write to the family. This time he should squarely admit his mistake and offer a proper apology.

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