Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mike Butler: The story behind the Titford story

Northland farmer Allan Titford steeled himself on Thursday for a long time locked up when he found out that his appeal against conviction and sentence was rejected. Now, with the appeal over, the other hidden story may be told.

Titford, who was jailed in 2013 for 24 years on 39 charges including the rape of his wife, burning his house down, and assaulting his children, found out about the failure of his appeal from a friend who saw it in a newspaper.

The grounds for his appeal were severance (separating the 53 charges into groups and having separate trials), fitness to stand trial, and the right to present a defence. Most of Auckland barrister Ron Mansfield’s presentation on Friday, July 14, went into arguing that Titford was not fit to stand trial in 2013. Evidence included psychological assessments made after 2013, with most made in 2016.

This argument found no favour with the three Appeal Court justices who declared in their written decision reported on August 3 that "querulous paranoia", was not a diagnosed mental impairment which means that the convictions and sentence stand.

"Querulous paranoia", a term used in the newspaper report of the appeal, which is so unknown that it does not even appear in a Google search, apparently means Titford sees conspiracies in many places.

The lead justice noted during the hearing that Judge Duncan Harvey and counsel John Moroney had come under criticism for their conduct during the trial, but he had spoken to both who said that everything was in order so there was no problem. Such a slipshod response gives the appearance of the justice system protecting its own.

But we have to have faith in our justice system, and our system, after considerable prodding has found numerous miscarriages of justice, including those of Arthur Allan Thomas, Teina Pora, David Dougherty, and David Bain. The system needs some prodding over the Titford convictions and sentencing because substantial doubt remains on every conviction.

I say this based on reading the transcripts of the Titford trial and the witness interviews, and after documenting the sequence of events that led to his arrest, as well as the seriously mishandled Maunganui Bluff land claim of the 1980s. This research was for a book titled Grievance – the Allan Titford Story, to be released soon.

After the trial, Titford’s ex-wife Susan waived suppression and went on television in December 2013, with her three eldest children, to put the boot in.

According to the New Zealand Herald, a team of 10 detectives had worked for at least six months gathering more than 30 hostile witness statements before Allan was arrested on November 11, 2010. Why so many detectives? Were these detectives investigating the allegations or piling up evidence to support a pre-determined outcome?

The facts are that Mrs Titford left Mr Titford on July 23, 2009, the police served papers on Titford on July 29 claiming violence and assault, and Mrs Titford asked for $1 million in cash in a letter dated August 1.

An investigation following the evidence would reveal that before she left, Mrs Titford had sent an email to a barrister asking: "If for instance he [Titford] was in jail, would I be able to get control of the trust back or would he still hold title of trustee?"

After Titford was arrested on 53 charges on November 11, 2010, the claims of domestic violence enabled him to be bailed to more than 430km away from his farms. With the ex-husband well and truly out of the picture, Mrs Titford began a series of steps to separate him from the Mengha Trust.

She failed in an attempt on December 15 of that year to get the High Court to appoint her as the new trustee, citing perjury and perverting the course of justice charges against Titford as evidence that he had misconducted himself.

But she tried again and succeeded on August 2, 2011, in getting an order by consent by which Titford agreed to resign as trustee in light of the previously mentioned charges.

Why was Mrs Titford so concerned about being trustee of the Mengha Trust? She had been trustee from the formation of the trust in 1999 but was required to relinquish it when she went bankrupt in 2007 as the result of a farm purchase that she had made that went bad.

This sequence of events raises the question whether the hostility between Mr and Mrs Titford was over rape and domestic violence or was in a brutal battle for control of the Mengha trust and all its riches.

These High Court actions that paralleled the District Court process separated Titford from the trust that held his assets, preventing him from paying for a proper legal defence and opening the way for Susan to bust the trust and get the assets.

Meanwhile, Susan gained legal advice from one Cabinet Minister, obtained help from another, and was given immunity from prosecution, enabling her to win her cases against her former husband while admitting in court to lying.

Handling 53 charges relating to 51 alleged incidents over 22 years in a single trial raises the question whether this would allow sufficient scrutiny of each charge to deliver verdicts that were beyond reasonable doubt.

During the Titford trial, witness testimony came via a succession of pre-recorded DVD interviews played to the court in which witnesses told their stories from beginning to end.

In cross-examination via CTV, these witnesses were asked scattered questions about some parts of what they said. There was no systematic scrutiny of each charge. Claims with varying degrees of plausibility were scattered over the four weeks of the trial. Discrepancies by witnesses and between witnesses were in this scattergun presentation of fragmented information.

Titford’s sole evidence was a DVD interview of on the day he was arrested, at 6am. To be clear, one day without warning he was woken at the crack of dawn, interviewed, and the video recording of that interview was played to a hostile court three years later.

No other witnesses for Titford were called. Titford said he provided a list of witnesses. Moroney said there was no list.

The Titford trial jury was required to put together all those fragmented snatches of information into a coherent order to decide guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Loud arguing was heard in the jury room during deliberations. Some jurors were in tears when the verdicts were read. The pressure on the jury in the trial of Allan Titford was immense.

Severance, argued in the appeal, would have reduced this problem. Severance was discussed for the Titford trial but not proceeded with. Separate trials would have enabled jurors to decide whether the prosecutor had proved the case or merely overwhelmed them with so many allegations that they simply felt that Titford must be guilty.

Mrs Titford had presented herself as a victim, and the Whangarei District Court bought it, but the paper trail shows that her financial concerns preceded concerns about violence and assault. Possibly, an uneducated woman was able to play on the prejudices of the educated men in the justice system to lock up her ex-husband and get the money.

The Titford case raises the question of whether the uncorroborated claims of an embittered ex-wife who told the court she was fed up with lying and who had a financial incentive could constitute sufficient evidence for beyond-reasonable-doubt rape convictions.

Possibly the Crown is paying $90,000 a year to keep Titford locked up just because his ex-wife wanted a relationship property settlement -- which in the end amounted to around $500,000.

The Titford trial raises questions about the security of trusts. For everyone in New Zealand who holds assets in a trust, Tarasiewicz v Titford shows that in New Zealand providing assets to a trust does not guarantee control of those assets.

A later hearing on that matter raised the question whether a trust in New Zealand offers any protection whatsoever when the High Court can regard trust assets as relationship property assets.

With no minimum term on his sentence, Titford is constantly told that all he has to do is admit he did it. But “how can I admit to crimes I did not commit?” he says.

Allan Titford, who once described himself as the most stubborn person in New Zealand, could be locked up for a very long time.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

I read thorough the court transcripts (though most certainly not as assiduously as you), visited Mr Titford and remain deeply uncomfortable about the convictions and imprisonment. Will read your forthcoming book.

Ross Baker said...

Great story Mike, you must have spent years researching it!

paul scott said...

Thank you Mike for the effort you take on behalf of one of our citizens. And Lindsay here also.
The scattergun approach by the cowardly State is an effective way to take out an opponent who has a proper defence. The techniques used here make the Thailand police system seem benign.
To hear that Ministers of Government were involved tells us all the things we can not write.
Family Trusts
Should be considered as extremely vulnerable now, due to an angry social history of activism against men, and statutes which can be used to destroy these Trusts.
Michael Cullen did a lot of this work. Each year filling in the modified Trust tax returns gave good clues of what was happening.
Family Trust Story >
My father formed at family Trust with me in the late 1980’s because he suspected correctly I was careless and vulnerable. When I transferred the quite small financial asset from the Veterinary Clinic to a family home in 2003, I vested the Trust, and the home became the property of my daughter and her mother.
The Mother is trusted, because she would never act against her daughter and had a substantial asset base herself.
We don’t do lawyers or accountants in my family for obvious reasons
At exactly three years, triggering matrimonial property the marriage ended, and we received the Trust busting attempt from an interesting activist lawyer.
Her knowledge of our family required theft of documents from the home, and she admitted this in writing.
Even without my name on the title deed they were prepared to spend a lot of New Zealanders money to relieve my daughter of inherited money. Thankfully the Thai wife new man, began to see reality, withdrew his support, when he realized how determined in was , and I paid for her to go back to Thailand.
The lawyer sensing a missed opportunity actually sent me an account for the work of arranging a case against my daughter.

A family Trust with a lawyer or Accountant involved as Trustee will take some time and resistance to change. Take it from me Start now.
Any married man should have an absolutely trusted friend who keeps his eyes and ears open.
And if it gets frightening, act effectively, but you don’t shoot the messenger.

paul scott said...

Typical of me to leave a vital part of my story out. The marriage of three years I refer to was with a Thai woman [ very too much expensive a lot, and village family also you know ] . 2012 to 2015 .