Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Scott Watson case hairs don't stack up and never will.

There has been much talk about the '2-hairs' in the Scott Watson case this week. I was encouraged to read on a blog a person saying that he didn't know it took 3 months to find the 2-hairs. Fact is most people don't, and the media generally mistakenly report the 2-hairs as being found on Scott's yacht, but they weren't. They were found in a lab 3 months after the couple's disappearance.

Scott's boat was pulled out of the water on January 11th 1998 after it was seized under a High Court warrant to look for 'bodies, body parts and forensic evidence'. The first searches were by police, it would be fair to say that each officer that went aboard the sloop would have been looking for any signs of evidence. Police were very interested in the sails in the forward department because of claims the bodies had been wrapped in sails and sunk in the Cook Strait. First things first, they found no bodies, no body parts and the sails were intact. Before we go further it must be remembered that a High Court Judge had been told there was evidence supporting the warrant, in 20 years there has not been a single clue or explanation as to what evidence existed to make the claim about bodies and body parts. I think after all this time we can say it was made up.

Soon after, at least 3 ESR staff searched the sloop, found hairs, and blood which were collected. They searched for fingerprints and recovered all they found including a scrubbing brush. The woman who found the hairs and blood inside the cabin identified the positions of the finds and noted them. None of those hairs were identified as being from Ben or Olivia, nor was the blood. The hairs in the brush also did not belong to the couple. So we come to the tiger blanket off the bed which was collected and taken away with clothing and other items of interest.

Over a year later The Crown would say that Scott had thoroughly cleaned down his yacht to hide traces of the couple, the lie to this of course was the blood and hairs, also the scrubbing brush, but the biggest indication of the lie was a further year later after Scott had been charged when, on a request from the defence, the Crown revealed that there had been 390 hairs found on the blanket - it's not certain how they reached that figure because a big mistake in this case was that nobody apparently remembered to count possible evidentiary hairs except from the 1st search of the sloop by the 3 ESR staff.

Sometime in January 2 ESR staff had the blanket released to them to take off all the hairs individually and place them in 2 plastic bags. Common sense tells us that those staff, like the earlier ESR staff aboard the sloop would have looked for long blond hairs because hardly a person in NZ would not have known that the missing Olivia had long blond hair. So now we are at least 2 or 3 police searches of sloop, and at least 2 or 3 ESR searches for hairs on the sloop. We have 2 more in the removal of hairs from the blanket - 2 staff, 2 searches. The 2 bags were then put the storage facility before being released to the ESR 'hair expert' Sue Vintiner, who searched the 2 bags in January and collected 11 hairs 'mostly with roots.' Hair roots are necessary for DNA analysis, she found that none of the hairs belonged to Ben or Olivia. In a memo she recorded this fact and said the case was a 'hard' one and that none of the hairs were Ben or Olivia's, so another unsuccessful search and this time by the celebrated 'expert.'

All of this is tricky enough. We have a warrant to look for bodies and body parts, none are found, however blood and hairs are found and none belong to the couple. When the cabin was searched the most obvious place was to search the bed and the blanket for that is where the alleged killings and rape must have silently taken place, with a couple apparently co-operating in their own deaths by remaining so silent that people on 2 other boats rafted up to Scott's sloop never heard a word or a scream. We have a blanket with 390 hairs on it after the sloop was cleaned down of evidence - I'd welcome anyone to explain that, cleaning down paint, leaving spots of blood, hairs and a blanket with 390 hairs on it. No sign of the 2-hairs yet and we're into March.

Switch your mind to the Thomas case, the Bain case and that of Lundy. Everything searched and nothing found - then suddenly a new search of the Crewe garden in the Thomas case and a cartridge found weeks after a full grid searches and sifting had found nothing. Then to Bain, Stephens room carefully gridded and checked for 2 days and then on the 3rd night of the inquiry a detective not tasked with the job going into the house after hours searching Stephen's room and suddenly finding a glass lens. Exhausting. Lundy, his shirt clean as a whistle, never put into the custody of the exhibits officer but instead kept in the 'safe' of the officer in charge, weeks later when the case is in deep trouble suddenly 2 small spots found on the shirt which are argued about until today and are currently the subject of appeal. Meanwhile between Bain and Lundy, its March of 1998 and Ms Vintiner decides to check the 2 bags again in the third month after the inquiry began, this day there is a someone in the Lab with her who is not from ESR or police, Vintiner also contrary to ESR accreditation rules has sample hairs believed to be that of Oliva taken from the Hope household, - also on a 2nd search for long blond hairs. Ms Vintiner searches the bags again like every other search since January finds nothing. But she doesn't give up just because she is finding the case 'hard' so she searches again and hello, not one long blond hair but 2! Whatever could have happened, but don't worry she is a 'hair comparison' expert. She could presumably walk past you in the supermarket note the colour of your hair and pick it off a table mixed with 100s of other hairs months later.

No surprises there, don't bat a eyelid. Not even for the next details. Until March 1998 and through all those searches the longest hair found was 7.5 cms. But wait, the 2 blond hairs that were never photographed or videod in situ were 25 and 15 cm long, twice and three times longer than any other hairs found. Before moving to the next point it should be noted that both times hairs were taken from the Hope household they were not counted so even if the hair expert had been surprised at the sudden find she couldn't count the Hope household hairs, find 2 missing and say 'silly me.'

There is a tonne of other evidence to show that the 2-hair evidence is decidedly weak despite that a previous Minister of Justice said the case against Scott was 'held together' by the 2 hairs. The strongest might be that 'hair comparison' methods our local 'expert' used were found to have to have resulted in 95% of those convicted by the American FBI using 'hair comparison' methods in the 20 years to 2015 being exonerated. Yes, 95%. In New Zealand, as it is in Britain, experts witnesses duty is to the Court, they are not there for the defence or Crown but as an expert to the Court. If as science methods change or faults are identified in processes, the experts are required to inform the Court of any cases they may have worked on where faulty process has been identified. I can tell you today neither Ms Vintiner or the New Zealand ESR have put their hands up, but have kept silent, deadly quiet.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Liam Ashley's death, 11 years later.

Liam Ashley was 17 years old in 2006 when he took his parents car without permission. Apparently at the stage he was playing up a bit, nothing too serious according to his parents at the time who considered that laying a complaint with the police could be just the good shake up the young teen needed. Liam was arrested and his parents declined to support his bail so he was remanded in custody. I recall reading later that his parents considered a small stint on remand in Auckland's old Mount Eden prison would straighten him out. Shortly after he was strangled and stomped in the prison escort van by 29 year old George Baker who would say he thought the young boy was a 'nark.' The day after, Liam's life support was turned off in Auckland Hospital.

George Baker was classified as a dangerous prisoner with mental health issues who more than likely in a less rigid of the appraisal between mad and bad would have been in a mental health institution and no where near the youngster said to be 'gentle and kind.' How the young boy could apparently be a nark, the term for an informer, at the age of 17 and without any criminal background is another indication of the mental health of George Baker who was sentenced to life with a minimum parole period of 18 years after pleading guilty. Understandably the public concern was high and the Minister of Corrections Damien O Conner was under attack by the opposition shadow Minister Simon Power.

The escort vehicle was not a Corrections van but a contractor's secure van operated by Chubb Security. In 2007 Chubb expressed the desire to give up the contract no doubt because they broke the rules and put a large dangerous adult offender with a small teenager first offender. It was with that situation in mind that I read a letter from the Howard League of Penal Reform (Wellington) dated 16th October 2017 regarding Chubb operating transport for woman offenders between Auckland and Wellington. The letter sets out that the minimum trip time is 12 hours during which there is only one toilet break and no food or water short of a packed breakfast. The prisoners cannot stand (lack of headroom) and are given no chance to alight and walk around to stretch their legs, most are low security and from the description given the conditions are deliberately cramped for financial reasons. 60 cm of bench space per prisoner, inadequate leg space, steel interior, with only small grills for ventilation, they are generally handcuffed. The accommodation has been described as steel cages, without windows. These for women with minimum security ratings that allow them freedom to work outside in prison grounds. Women also prepared to undertake a rehabilitation course to be better mothers and better citizens.

These trips indeed follow rehabilitation programmes the women have completed at Arohata Prison, Wellington before being returned to the Auckland Women's Prison. The Howard League letter discloses a 2006 Ombudsman report which includes a quote from Corrections as saying;

'There is no formal national policy on the provision of food, water and rest breaks or for providing opportunities for prisoners to stretch their legs. Most prisoner transport will consist of relatively short journeys and would not necessitate the need for rest breaks for food and water.'

In 2007 the Chief Ombudsman, John Belgrave, described Corrections 'prisoner transport polices as inhumane.'

I think it is fairly clear that New Zealand Justice changes are generally reactive and most often follow some exposure or 'whipping up' of public outrage. A good example for that is any debate on sentencing where the 'outraged' always have a specific case that they can quote to show the prisons are soft, sentences too short and so on despite their being no correlation for that which is objective rather than subjective. New Zealand is not good at standing back and being objective about such things and anything to do with imprisonment is soon politicized from both sides of the spectrum, generally favouring the outraged who are not in anyway personally involved.

One reaction following Liam's death was against the mentally disturbed George Baker, such are the complexities of the man that I recall him writing (or it may have been by video) to the Court to support his appeal by saying that he had spoken to his mum and they agreed that 18 years was too long. Another was Chubb saying they would walk away from their contract, probably a less than subtle threat to Corrections. Possibly the most recent has been the escape of the prisoner to Brazil from a home leave visit, this resulted in all prisoners having home leaves stopped (some apparently recently beginning again after some 2 years) all work outside prisons was also stopped in some South Island prisons for minimum security prisoners which is apparently still in place. Think of the maths for that. Around 10,000 prisoners is the current prison population. 1 escapes 9,999 suffer for that. Consider the message as being similar to men and boys taken away from their villages in Europe or the Middle East because of a single event against the powers that be, or because of their ethnicity, never to be seen alive again.

A person sent to prison is encouraged to take part in reform programmes in the belief that they can improve themselves, gain assistance for psychological or behavioral problems they may help gain an early release and lead to an improved life for themselves, children or future children. All sounds good. This is the system extolling the benefits of prisoners taking a good look at themselves, looking to take responsibility for themselves and ultimately benefit society by not breaking the law, instead working and being productive in some way. Then 1 escapes, and 9,999 get clonked with the hammer one way or another, reduced chances to visit family toward the end of their sentences, to work outside the prison or eventually work on parole but not because they did something wrong but rather because a person they don't even know did something wrong, got caught and was re-imprisoned. So what actually is the lesson?

It appears to go like this, you've broken the law and at anytime in the future you can be held responsible for something that you didn't do or did not know about. There is something missing here obviously. I'd called it fortitude. When Simon Power put pressure on Damien O'Connor there was a fair chance neither man knew that Chubb would put Liam at the mercy of the madman Charlie Baker, in fact would have been horrified at the thought, presumably think that it could possibly never happen as did the public. However, a battle waged - perfectly understandable in the political spectrum of the time. However is it understandable now? With a prison population of over 10,000 and a solid effort being made to 'command' the re-offending problem by the current and past Government will the politicians continue to wave the big stick as to who is tough on crime and who is not? More than likely, assuming that it will let's go back to the van and being 'reactive.'

What happens if that van catches on fire, does the door open automatically? Is there even an emergency exit as is required on a bus or a plane.

What happens if the vehicle crashes, goes off the road into deep water?

What happens if the vehicle breaks down in an isolated area, say the desert road?

What happens if the steel cage is kicked to touch and the women are moved in Transit van or similar, even a people mover? So that stops can be made, a chance to walk around for both the staff and those in their custody - will the sky fall in? Will the women fail to appreciate that if just 1 of them does something wrong 9,999 others will be punished in some way.

Liam was described as 'gentle and kind'. I wonder what he would have said about this had he not be locked in a cage with a man twice his size who imagined he was something that he was not,  who didn't see just a  frightened young man being given what was hoped to have been a lesson not to drive the family car without permission and instead felt sorry and protective of him.

Friday, November 3, 2017

There's something about Witness C

There was a lot missing at the sentencing of Witness C at the Auckland High Court on 8 counts of perjury. I am not sure what I really expected. The police and Crown have done a lot to protect their informers over many years. The argument has always been that secret witnesses are a last resort, but vital to prosecutions. For the first time the New Zealand public may generally be disturbed that such witnesses may lie, but also lie extravagant detail, and consider the result as the absolute failure of the system to take any interest in the truth. When did the truth first appear to emerge in this case after David Tamihere had been convicted of the murders of the Swedish hitchhikers Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen?

When Urban's body was found buried in bush the 'stolen' watch was still on his wrist, his mortal injuries far different than what witness C had said of his being bashed to death and dumped at sea. Somehow the New Zealand Court of Appeal, despite this fresh evidence that went to the heart of the case, said that the Tamihere convictions built around the Hoglin watch being found in the Tamihere home where it was said to have been gifted to David's son, were 'safe,' At some point during the perjury sentencing Richard Francois, appearing for the 'prosecution,' dismissed the Court of Appeal of that era disdainfully. I was surprised that in the Auckland High Court I would hear the words I often repeat myself about the Court that failed to recognize the Miscarriages of Justices embodied in many cases through that 'era' starting with Tamihere, David Bain, Teina Pora, Scott Watson and Mark Lundy - a Court which filled the gaps for ailing prosecutions, painted over the cracks and administered, heartless, injustice. They were assassins disguised in black gowns forming a medieval Court who could look into the minds of Jurors, defendants and the lawyers themselves always to protect the prosecution. The Court that was never disturbed that Pora, not yet 16, had been held incommunicado, cultivated by the promise of money, lied to, then ignored the big gaps in his story and the inducements he was offered and kept in prison for 2 decades without a single recrimination for Rutherford, the 'tough' nosed South Auckland cop who ignored the real culprit and 'lone wolf' rapist and long time informer Malcolm Rewa, choosing a youth instead that couldn't describe the victim in his 'confession' and didn't know where she lived.

Informers have always been looked after, the authorities are seldom concerned about the truth when in comes to informers, they cover for them as they did in Tamihere and Watson where they said the informers evidence wasn't pivotal and that the prosecution would have still won without the tainted evidence. No explanation ever given, why if the evidence wasn't needed, the hazardous and highly prejudicial was given to the jury. A few days after 'C's' hearing I appreciated that it was right to tell the High Court of the shortcomings of the Court of Appeals in many different Miscarriages of Justice. The Court is after all meant to be a place of truth, a place where the 'truth' as offered by secret witnesses should be viewed as unnecessary and dangerous as case after New Zealand case has shown. So it was an appropriate truth at the sentencing of C in the Auckland High Court that the Court was reminded how the Justice system had been abused by police using secret witness for decades, confident that the Court would back them up. 98 years of false imprisonment on just the names mentioned above when added to Arthur Thomas's 9 years.

I am not sure of what had drawn me to the Court though it would appear to be for the chance to look at C. The once barrel chested Ngapuhi with the velvet tongue was reduced by age, pulling an audience, apparently comfortable and aloof. Hard to read, nothing indicating any sort of remorse for his relationship with the late policeman John Hughes who had helped C get early parole for a double murder only only for him to re-offend and spend longer in prison on his recall than he did for his original sentence. It was spoken about in the Court of C having continued to be 'active' in offering perjured evidence to apparently willing police, there are hints that he had been an informer for over 4 decades. He obviously treated it as a full time job.

Behind him and to his left was David Tamihere a man with an easy smile and also weathered by many years in prison thanks to C's evidence that the Appeal Court would later say wasn't needed. How blind could a Court be to think that 'confessions' that when heard by the Jury causing some to cry - could not have mattered to them. At one stage Tamihere said to a woman sitting close to me that he didn't care what sentence C got but that it was the convictions for perjury that mattered as surely they do. On that Wednesday morning on the grounds where NZ's first Parliament had stood the country moved a little closer to coming of age where the institutions of Justice themselves saw their own covered lack of skepticism exposed to the light by 8 convictions against the heart of Justice.

Around 10 kilometers away in Maximum security Arthur Taylor waited for the outcome of his successful prosecution, a minimum security prisoner held in maximum security, the same prison where both Tamihere and C had spent years and years, the bleak place from where the 'story' 'Henry went last night' was penned, the fresh faced young south islander who took his life there during one short period where  8 or 9 men hanged themselves and a protest began that Arthur would eventually join and become locked in a battle for prisoner's and their families rights. Arthur has won many battles in the Courts, to this point in time none have been more significant than the exposure of the Court of Appeal of 2 decades or so ago and the police confident of 'getting away' with bringing perjurers to Court to gain convictions. Not a single police officer has ever been prosecuted, not in Thomas, Tamihere, Bain, Watson or Lundy. The Courts don't bother to comment and police just keep going paying the mealy mouthed with money, goods or a quicker chance of freedom. Freedom is an interesting word to use in a blog about C who stole an innocent man's freedom abetted by police.

Miscarriages of Justice have many of the same characteristics case by case, sure signs that are ignored, never raised by the Courts or the police. They appear to never looked for and memory of this is shut out when faced with another case that has the same characteristics. Now it is up to all of us to remember the perjury of C. Forget the man himself as the problem, and remember the police and Judges who were his enablers.