Ex-officer jailed for life for killing wife

An Invercargill police officer who killed his wife and shot her new lover has been labelled an “evil bastard” with no remorse.

Former Constable Benjamin Peter McLean (48) pleaded guilty to murder and attempted murder last week.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years by Justice Rachel Dunningham when he appeared before the High Court at Invercargill this morning.

Benjamin Peter McLean
Benjamin Peter McLean

McLean killed his wife, 40-year-old Verity “Bert” McLean, with a single gunshot to the head in Invercargill in April last year and then shot the man she had moved in with, Gary William Duggan (48).

Mr Duggan survived and his emotive victim-impact statement was read in court by his support person Michael Laws this morning.

“He planned to kill Bert, he planned to kill me,” he said.

“If I'd been a physically weaker man, there would be no one here to tell you what an evil bastard he really is.”

Mr Duggan said he suffered post-traumatic stress following the incident and was left with the ordeal indelibly etched into his mind.

“My strongest feeling . . . is of guilt. I loved this woman and she loved me, she felt safe with me and I couldn't protect her from the evil of Ben McLean,” he said.

“It's a legacy I have to live with forever.”

Mr Duggan saw no contrition in the man he had known for 15 years.

“I do resent having my life stolen by this man and do not believe he has any remorse . . . he regards his actions as being caused by others rather than accepting any responsibility himself.”

McLean tearfully responded, reading a statement from the dock, much of which was unclear.

“I will forever regret the pain and suffering I have caused my children,” he said.

“I'd like to take the opportunity to formally apologise to the Southland district and New Zealand police.”

The defendant concluded his speech: “Bert was the love of my life and broke my heart, my soul”.

Michael Laws gave a statement on behalf of Gary Duggan (right). Image: ODT
Michael Laws gave a statement on behalf of Gary Duggan (right). Image: ODT

McLean's murderous spiral began on April 5 when Mrs McLean told him she was leaving him for his close friend.

Less than three weeks later, on Anzac Day, the defendant arrived back at his Scott St home after dropping off two of his children with an aunt in Dunedin.

He had argued with Mrs McLean on the phone after she had broken into the property to pick up some belongings.

In response, McLean assembled a kit bag which made his intentions clear.

He packed a wooden baton, blue disposable rubber gloves, a small bottle of hand sanitiser, plastic handcuffs (the same type the Armed Offenders Squad uses), strips of towel and a portable radio tuned to the Invercargill police channel.

Most significantly, he also took a cut-down .22 rifle with a silencer attached.

After binding and gagging Mrs McLean, he shot her once under the chin and left her dead on the couch.

Then he lay in wait for Mr Duggan.

McLean shot him once in the chest and once in the arm but the victim hit back, grabbing the weapon from the defendant and smashing him over the head.

The brawl continued with McLean making use of the wooden baton but that too was wrestled from him.

“You were relentless in your attack on him,” Justice Dunningham said.

Eventually the violence stopped as the pair became exhausted.

Mr Duggan warned McLean he better not have harmed “Bert”.

Despite her car being in the drive and the lights in the house being on, the defendant claimed he was out with friends.

Soon after he left the property on the bike which he rode there, leaving his former friend on the driveway bleeding profusely.

While hiding from police, McLean called his children and admitted the heinous acts. “I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea,” he said.

Later, when Mrs McLean's father visited him at Invercargill prison he explained: "She wouldn’t talk to me or have anything to do with me and I snapped”.

Justice Dunningham said the defendant had been segregated from the general prison population since being on remand and would continue to be held in solitary confinement for up to 18 months.

Bob Barber, the father of Verity McLean, speaks to media after the sentencing in Invercargill today. Image: ODT
Bob Barber, the father of Verity McLean, speaks to media after the sentencing in Invercargill today. Image: ODT

TRIBUTE TO VERITY, FATHER THANKS POLICE

Outside court Garry Duggan paid tribute to the woman he had fallen in love with.

The three weeks they spent in the Otepuni Ave home they had nicknamed “the shed” were the best of his life, he said.

“Bert was a loving, kind and compassionate woman; an outstanding mum. She tried to make her relationship with Ben McLean work and she tried often on behalf of her children,” Mr Duggan said in a statement read by Michael Laws.

“Ben McLean decided that his hate, his anger and his perverted sense of wrong was more important than everyone else.”

He said he was plagued by the thought of the defendant being paroled.

“One day Ben McLean will be released from prison and on that day another grave injustice will have been created,” he said.

“He knew the potential consequences if he was convicted. He also knew, as he knew today, that one day he will walk free. Bert will never walk free.”

Mrs McLean's father Bob Barber took issue with the words McLean used during his tearful statement.

“He said he had lost the love of his life in court. He didn't lose her; he executed her. His only regret was getting caught and not finishing off what he set out to do,” he said.

Mr Barber said his faith had carried him through the immensely difficult time and he paid tribute to the police investigation team.

Detective Inspector Steve Wood, of Dunedin, said the officers had “worked tirelessly” in what were unique circumstances.

“Over my 28 years, I can't recall anything that parallels the circumstances of this case,” he said.

“We've had to manage it in an independent manner. We've had to bring in outside detectives . . . to make sure there's no favouritism or anything like that. To be honest, everyone here has got on and got the job done.”

Det Insp Wood said as a result of McLean's actions police had reviewed processes around access to items such as radios and handcuffs.

“But of course at the time he was a serving police officer . . . so there was only limited steps we could take to prevent something like that occurring again,” he said.

Mr Duggan finished his statement with a message for Mrs McLean, “wherever she is”.

“You will never be forgotten, you will always be loved, until the end of time.”

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