North & South - - Cover Story -

As the peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of a re­cent con­fronta­tion in Kaitaia shows, there are plenty of po­lice of­fi­cers who aim to keep the peace rather than aim a Taser. But no greater moral courage is shown than by those who blow the whis­tle on col­leagues they be­lieve have acted vi­o­lently. Con­sta­bles like Ti­maru’s Paul Mckay, who last year stood wit­ness against a sergeant charged with beat­ing a teenager black and blue (the of­fi­cer in­volved was dis­charged with­out con­vic­tion and has since left the force).

The pros­e­cu­tion un­suc­cess­fully sought name sup­pres­sion for the con­sta­ble, so he wouldn’t face ret­ri­bu­tion from within the force.

In 2014, three South Auck­land of­fi­cers re­ported a dog han­dler for kick­ing an of­fender – who was al­ready pinned face- down – three to four times in the head. Al­though the vic­tim was left bleed­ing and the at­tack was ruled un­law­ful by the IPCA, the dog han­dler was not pros­e­cuted, nor was dis­ci­plinary ac­tion noted. The com­man­der’s com­ment left no doubt as to his sym­pa­thies: “I ac­cept that in all prob­a­bil­ity he could have used a less force­ful op­tion to en­sure the of­fender com­plied with in­struc­tions.”

Speak­ing more plainly, for­mer Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Greg O’con­nor (now pos­si­bly a fu­ture Labour Party po­lice spokesper­son) weighed in with es­sen­tially a pub­lic con­dem­na­tion of the three of­fi­cers’ eth­i­cal courage. He said he thought “a good pro­por­tion of New Zealan­ders would not have thought there was a prob­lem… I think most ex­pe­ri­enced po­lice of­fi­cers... could em­pathise with the po­lice of­fi­cer [dog han­dler] in­volved.”

So, how far into the ranks does this “cir­cle the wag­ons” cul­ture ex­tend? In 2008, also in South Auck­land, two po­lice con­sta­bles ad­mit­ted they had fal­si­fied re­ports of a 2004 in­ci­dent in which a pris­oner was fa­tally in­jured while try­ing to es­cape a beat­ing by a third of­fi­cer. A few years later, Mike Bush, the new dis­trict com­man­der, claimed the in­ci­dent had been in­ves­ti­gated, and de­nied any cul­ture of cover-up had op­er­ated in the Coun­ties Manukau po­lice dis­trict.

Bush for­got to men­tion the 2005 news­let­ter sent out by a pre­de­ces­sor, Steve Short­land, ex­hort­ing staff to hunt whistle­blow­ers as “traitors”. He also didn’t men­tion a 2005 for­mal in­quiry into the cul­ture of the Coun­ties Manukau po­lice dis­trict he was head­ing. For­mer judge Sir David Tomp­kins, who headed the in­quiry, found ex­ces­sive vi­o­lence pro­tected by a code of si­lence. His re­port noted that “young recruits were quickly so­cialised into a cul­ture… where un­less the of­fence was very se­ri­ous, it was ex­tremely in­ad­vis­able to blow the whis­tle on one’s col­leagues”.

By 2013, then-as­sis­tant Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Bush was in line for the top po­lice job. At the fu­neral of for­mer de­tec­tive inspector Bruce Hut­ton, who planted ev­i­dence in the Crewe mur­ders case that led to Arthur Al­lan Thomas be­ing wrongly jailed for nine years, Bush had this to say: “We all know de­spite the length and depth of Bruce’s term with us in the po­lice, in the pub­lic eye he is only as­so­ci­ated with one case. It is a great tragedy and irony that a man of such great char­ac­ter should have been sub­ject to those ac­cu­sa­tions.”

Few po­lice of­fi­cers are un­aware that long be­fore the Crewe case, Hut­ton was leg­endary within the po­lice as a leader of a hard team known for its ruth­less and un­com­pro­mis­ing meth­ods. A year af­ter sing­ing the praises of Hut­ton, Bush was made Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice.

And what of that brave young Ti­maru con­sta­ble? Paul Mckay has re­ceived no pub­licly dis­sem­i­nated word of praise or sup­port from his com­mis­sioner. How­ever Judge Raoul Neave, in de­clin­ing the con­sta­ble’s ap­pli­ca­tion for name sup­pres­sion, said there was no rea­son for him to hide from his fel­low of­fi­cers.

“He should be praised, his con­duct could not be more com­mend­able, he’s the hero of this sit­u­a­tion. If there are el­e­ments in the po­lice force and com­mu­nity who think oth­er­wise they should take a long hard look at them­selves, be­cause they are a dis­grace.”

“It is a great tragedy and irony that a man of such great char­ac­ter should have been sub­ject to those ac­cu­sa­tions.” MIKE BUSH

For­mer de­tec­tive inspector Bruce Hut­ton planted ev­i­dence that led to Arthur Al­lan Thomas be­ing wrongly jailed for nine years.

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