Arthur Allan Thomas

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Arthur Allan Thomas (born 2 January 1938[1]) is a New Zealand man who was granted a Royal Pardon and compensation after being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for murder. Thomas was convicted in 1971 of the murders of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe, who had been killed in June 1970 in Pukekawa, south of Auckland. Thomas, who farmed a property in the same district as the Crewes, was again convicted of their murders after his conviction was quashed on appeal, but he was released in December 1979 after being pardoned and awarded NZ$950,000 in compensation for his 9 years in prison and loss of the use of the farm.[2]

Campaign to overturn the convictions[edit]

There were numerous inconsistencies in the evidence – which led to an outcry among elements in the farming community and among relatives of Thomas and his wife Vivien Thomas. This led to the formation of the Arthur Thomas Retrial Committee. The report by a retired judge Sir George MacGregor that rejected the appeal for a retrial was also riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies. But a report on this by journalist Terry Bell, then deputy editor of the Auckland Star Saturday edition, was rejected for publication on the grounds that "it is not the role of the newspapers to attempt to try the courts". Bell then resigned and produced the booklet Bitter Hill (which is the English meaning of Pukekawa), outlining the evidence, the inconsistencies and the theory about the killings advanced by the retrial committee. It provided the impetus for a national campaign that eventually led to a controversial retrial where the jury was housed, incommunicado, with police in a local hotel. Thomas was again convicted.

Pat Booth, assistant editor of the Auckland Star, attended the retrial and became concerned. Together with forensic scientist Jim Sprott, he uncovered the evidence about the cartridge case that finally led to the pardon for Thomas. As part of the campaign for a pardon, Booth wrote a book, Trial by Ambush. This was followed by another campaigning tome, Beyond Reasonable Doubt by British investigative author David Yallop, that was subsequently made into a film of the same name.[3]

Royal Commission of inquiry[edit]

A Royal Commission of Inquiry was established, headed by retired New South Wales Justice Robert Taylor. This declared Thomas to have been wrongfully charged and convicted, and found that among other improprieties, police had planted a .22 rifle cartridge case in the garden of the house where the murders were committed. The case was found four months and ten days after the area had already been subjected to one of the most intensive police searches ever undertaken. The cartridge case was said to have come from a rifle belonging to Thomas. However, the police tested only 64 rifles in an area where this weapon was common and found that two – including the one belonging to Thomas – could have fired the cartridge case found in the garden. This was the link to the deaths of the Crewes although it was later admitted that the case was "clean" and uncorroded when found. As such, the condition of the case was inconsistent with having lain in the garden, exposed to weather and dirt for more than four months.

No action against police officers[edit]

The commission report said: "Mr Hutton and Mr [Len] Johnston planted the shell case ... and they did so to manufacture evidence that Mr Thomas' rifle had been used for the killings."[4] The Solicitor-General recommended against prosecuting the officers due to insufficient evidence.[5] Both officers have since died.

Subsequent events[edit]

In 2009 Arthur Allan Thomas travelled to Christchurch to give support to David Bain, who also had criminal convictions against him overturned.[6] In 2010 he collaborated with investigative journalist Ian Wishart on the book Arthur Allan Thomas, where for the first time he gives his perspective on his life, from before the murders to the present.

The two detectives who planted the shell which helped convict Thomas are now dead. Johnston died in 1978. Bruce Hutton, 83, died in Middlemore Hospital in April 2013.[7] At Hutton's funeral, Deputy Commissioner Mike Bush praised Mr Hutton and said he was known for having "integrity beyond reproach".[8] An editorial in the NZ Herald said: "that was clearly absurd. It was also an unthinking or calculated insult to Mr Thomas, who spent nine years in prison before being pardoned".[9] Thomas, now 75 years old, responded by saying the police were engaged in "a blatant cover up".[10] A police review of the original investigation released in July 2014 cleared all other suspects and implied Arthur Thomas remained a police suspect.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bell, Terry (1972). Bitter Hill: Arthur Thomas—the case for a retrial. Auckland: Avante-Garde Publishing. 
  • Booth, Pat (1975). Trial by Ambush: the fate of Arthur Thomas. Wellington: South Pacific Press. 
  • Yallop, David A. (1978). Beyond Reasonable Doubt. Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-23667-1. 
  • Birt, Chris (2001). The Final Chapter. Auckland: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-100629-3. 
  • Hunter, Keith (April 2012). The Case of the Missing Bloodstain : Inside an incompetent and corrupt police inquiry: the truth of the Crewe murders. Auckland: Hunter Productions Ltd. ISBN 978-0-473-19646-2. 

External links[edit]