In April 2013, the then Deputy Commissioner gave a eulogy for former Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton in which he praised the dead man’s integrity. Not to put too fine of a point on it, however, Hutton was a crooked cop and he planted key evidence (a shell casing) in the case against Arthur Allan Thomas for the murder of Jeannette and Harvey Crew in 1970. It seems to me that everyone except the police accepts that Thomas did not commit that grisly crime, which has continued to grip and fascinate the public for decades (Thomas was given a Royal Pardon in 1979).
But even if one believes, and in my opinion you shouldn’t, that Thomas shot Harvey through a louvered window before bashing Jeannette in the face with the butt of his rifle then killing her and dumping both bodies in the Waikato River, one should never condone the planting of evidence. Never. Hutton did plant evidence, and yet at his funeral Mike Bush thought it was “really appropriate” to quote from his file that Hutton’s “integrity [was] beyond reproach”.
A public relations blunder? Certainly. More that that? I think so.
For me, this is a perfect example of 'blue vision'. Although I devised the theory of blue vision in respect to gangs and outlaw clubs, it is relevant to situations outside of this. In a nutshell, blue vision exists when police uphold a belief regardless of the evidence against it. The false story becomes ingrained in the collective police culture and they are blind to anything that may contradict it. Police officers with views that run against this perceived wisdom are marginalised and silenced. In this way, the false story is never contradicted and therefore becomes bedrock of police thought.
Within the New Zealand police Thomas is guilty, and inconvenient facts like the planting of evidence are minor issues, pushed from one’s mind in the same way one might swat away a pesky fly. With blue vision this seems appropriate, but to those with clear vision – in this instance the public majority – it looks as it is: a defence of the indefensible.
The police rely on public confidence to undertake their duties and by upholding a crooked cop they erode that public confidence. Furthermore we should expect – and in fact demand – better from our police.
This is not to say I’m against Bush’s appointment or anti-police. I’m neither. Just like imperfection in the police does not diminish the fact that overall the New Zealand police are extremely good, nor should one flaw necessarily soil Bush’s abilities and record. It will mean, however, his judgement will be fastidiously watched. And while I will be one watching, I wish him all the best in the role.
[My discussion of Blue Vision is in chapter eight of PATCHED – and specifically discussed between pp.231-237].
Addition: Here's an interview with Marcus Lush on RadioLive about this topic, if you're interested.