Friday, July 20, 2018

Tony Orman: Book review - another miscarriage of justice?


In recent decades the justice system has looked increasingly fragile with court cases such as of Arthur Allan Thomas and David Bain who were convicted then cleared of blame. 

Then there was the David Tamihere case where perjury abounded and the convicted was released after serving 20 years of a life imprisonment sentence. And there’s the oft-debate about whether convicted Scott Watson is guilty or not.

Justice is not always served.

So what of Allan Titford who in 1987 was driven off his farm by New Zealanders claiming Maori rights? His case is peculiar. In a single trial several years later he was tried on 53 charges involving assault, arson and rape.

Radio NZ in typically emotive poor journalism racist tones described Alan Titford as “an anti-Treaty activist.”

True that Alan Titford was prominent for his 20-year campaign against the Waitangi Tribunal and the Treaty of Waitangi after a land claim led to the sale of his farm to the Crown in the 1990s.

Judge Harvey sentenced Titford to a unprecedented cumulative term of 24 years in prison and said the 53-year-old had subjected his wife and family to violent abuse in a "reign of terror" that dated back to 1989.

But author Mike Butler of “24 Years - The Trials of Alan Titford” at the time was researching treaty settlements and in visiting Alan Titford described him as “a stocky, quietly spoken, well mannered man,” that did not fit Judge Harvey’s description. Things just didn’t stack up.

Others at the time who took a strong interest in the case described Alan Titford’s conviction as based on flimsy and suspect evidence. Underlying it was the role of the Waitangi Tribunal, in itself,  lacking credibility.

The final sentence in itself was incredible. Twenty four years of imprisonment is more than a sentence a murderer might receive.

Author Mike Butler pulls no punches and in the first couple of pages of his large book, describes “the evidence put before the court was at best, skimpy and contradictory.”  Alan Titford’s wife at the time, Susan, emerges as a key witness lacking credibility. For example she allegedly wrote to the Minister of Justice seeking guidance on perjury - but using an assumed name. Then letters she had written to Prime Minister David Lange, contradicted evidence she gave at Allan’s trial in 2013.

Incredibly she admitted to providing false information to a court while under oath and told the court she was sick of lying.

As for Allan previously, the police seemingly on a witch hunt, had charged him five times over 22 years and four times he was acquitted and his only conviction was over-turned on appeal.

The court processes relating to the 2013 case were poor yet a 2017 appeal failed to examine the flaws in the trial. So Alan Titford has been “sitting in jail as a result of questionable convictions and sentencing.” The record 24 year jail term is bizarre in itself.

The book at 333 pages is detailed and comprehensive but as the lies and injustices unravel is never tedious but is absorbing reading. Author Mike Butler has methodically laid out the facts and subsequent questions that arise.

Guilty or not guilty? The book is a compelling read that should be a strong vehicle to Alan Titford getting a fair trial.

Tony Orman, once a town and country planner, is now a  part-time journalist and author.

24 Years -the trials of Allan Titford,  by Mike Butler, Limestone Bluff Publishing, 339 pages, illustrated, $39.50, available from book shops or www.trosspublishing.co.nz

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