Three Men in a Boat by Trevor Plumbly
You’d be pretty hard pushed to find a more unlikely trinity than Arthur Allan Thomas, David Bain and Teina Pora who have little in common in family or social backgrounds. Arthur Thomas was a somewhat reclusive North Island farmer, David Bain was a nerdy high school student from an academic but dysfunctional family, whilst Teina Pora struggled with life virtually from day one. None of these three could be described as worldly wise: they were instead unsophisticated, innocent or just plain wounded. What they had in common was a naive belief that the judicial system wasn’t inclined to punish the innocent. They also share the distinction of being found guilty of murder, imprisoned for lengthy sentences and eventually found not guilty.
Three’s a Crowd
I won’t go into the details of each case; there’s enough armchair crime scene analysts down here in New Zealand without me adding to the ranks. Briefly: following the murders of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe, Arthur Allan Thomas was found guilty and imprisoned. A later appeal failed to acquit him, but after a protracted campaign, a Royal Commission strongly suggested police mishandling and planting of evidence; he was eventually granted a pardon by the Governor General, and compensated. In 1995 David Bain was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his parents, brother and two sisters. After two failed appeals, he won the right to a Privy Council hearing and in 2007 his conviction was quashed and a retrial ordered. The second trial ended with his acquittal on all charges in June 2009; compensation is still under review. Lastly, after being convicted of rape and murder, Teina Pora spent 21 years in jail before his conviction was also quashed by the Privy Council in March 2015.
The Truth Will Set You Free…Eventually
Thomas, to say the least, wasn’t articulate, Bain was hardly equipped for front line legal combat and Pora suffered from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder with an estimated mental age of around 12 years. All three were found guilty by a jury of their ‘peers’ on more than one occasion and, whilst it’s possible that the jurors may have been influenced by the defendants’ social shortcomings, a safer conclusion would be that serious crimes are more likely to become nationally personalised in a small country, thus minimising the possibility of a totally impartial jury.
It’s easy to blame the police or the Crown Law Office for their willingness to bulldoze these and other shaky prosecutions to conviction, but the real fault lies with the system. Surely, in the 21st Century, we can create a better system of divining the facts than summoning twelve people to sit in judgement, most of whom regard it as an imposition and, sadder still, are totally incapable of sifting the facts through the subtleties involved in lengthy and complicated trials. All of these three have been judged guilty in two or more jury trials, yet a panel of judges was needed to provide what countless citizens ‘good and true’ couldn’t. Instead of our Law Lords proclaiming ‘It’s the best system we’ve got’, wouldn’t it be better if they asked ‘Is it good enough?’