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The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews prison inmate Arthur Taylor

Press Release – The Nation

Lisa Owen: Arthur Taylor told me he’d never met David Tamihere when he decided to prosecute Roberto Conchie Harris for perjury. Harris was one of three jailhouse informants in Tamiheres trial, known for many years as Witnesses A, B and C because their …On Newshub Nation: Lisa Owen interviews prison inmate Arthur Taylor
Lisa Owen: Arthur Taylor told me he’d never met David Tamihere when he decided to prosecute Roberto Conchie Harris for perjury. Harris was one of three jailhouse informants in Tamihere’s trial, known for many years as Witnesses A, B and C because their identities were suppressed. Taylor calls them secret witnesses, but I put it to him that they weren’t secret at all, because during the trial the jury knew who they were, and that they were prisoners.
Arthur Taylor: But the jury did not have a clue about their background. I mean, we now know that when Harris was originally arrested for the double murder, he actually got life in prison for it back in 1983. But he tried to blame another guy, Herbert, right? So right from the word go, he had been telling lies and putting the blame on other people. Well, we know now that none of that disclosure was made available to the defence. You know, and if you read the cross-examination of Harris, you will see that they have got no information about him whatsoever.
So the jury knew he was a prisoner, though, because just the very nature of the evidence that he gave and the others gave was that they met David Tamihere because he was either in the cell next to them or they mixed with him in the prison. So everybody on that jury knew that these three witnesses were prisoners.
Absolutely, they knew that. But the jury are just ordinary people Lisa, off the street. They have not got the particulars. See, jailhouse witnesses are in a category of their own. First of all, they are in the power of the state. Second, they have got very little bargaining power, being prisoners. Third, they have always got extensive criminal records, including lengthy historys of dishonesty. They are trying to better their position. What motivates them – they are not your usual civic-minded citizen that comes forward and gives evidence about a crime they may have seen on the street; they are out to improve their lot. Their first primary consideration is them, number one. And they will do anything to get that way. The juries are not equipped. Your average jury member is not equipped to deal with that sort of stuff, you see. And, of course, another major problem is that there is all sorts of drama generally surrounds the production. Like, I have seen them in court myself. The sniper’s on the courtroom roof. The courtroom blinds are closed. There is all sorts of drama. They are brought into court between two armed detectives, usually – diplomatic protection squad, actually.
I have never seen that. Are you being a bit melodramatic? I have never seen a sniper on the roof of court. I have never seen anyone escorted by an armed diplomatic protection squad person.
Well, have you been to these secret witness trials?
I was present when this witness was in court.
Well, I can assure you that I’ve seen it myself in the Auckland High Court.
And I can tell you off-camera the names and the details of the case.
But you’re saying that this drama does what?
Well, it creates a preconception in the mind of the jury as a starting point. I mean, we’re all influenced by what we see initially. It creates – ‘Oh, well, the state can’t—The police believe everything this guy’s saying. They must have checked his story out real thoroughly. This guy’s here. We can believe him.’ You know? And if the defence don’t do their job because they haven’t got all the information relating to these people, well, the jury’s left completely with the wrong impression.
Okay. Well, the very nature of a jury’s job is to decide which witnesses are telling the truth and which aren’t. So we trust them to make that decision with every other type of witness, and judges give them very strong instructions about that. I don’t understand why we can’t trust them to make that same kind of assessment about who is a liar and who is not just because it is a jailhouse informant.
Well, they’re making these judgements – First of all, they’re not provided with all the information. They’re not provided with information about the inducements and other things a witness may be acting under. I can tell you right now – I have studied since I got involved in looking at the secret witnesses, and from my own personal experience of having them give evidence against me, they are never, ever motivated by the public interest; it’s always number one; they’ve always got lengthy histories of dishonesty; and they always go on to reoffend when they’re eventually released from prison after having given evidence, and I can tell you of many cases – chapter and verse.
Okay, we’ll get on to that in a minute, but in this particular case, the David Tamihere murder trial, the judge gave clear instructions. He said to the jury, ‘You must treat with care evidence from persons who may normally not be regarded as reliable witnesses.’ In reference to these jailhouse informants, he said, ‘If you conclude one or more is unreliable, disregard it, put it completely to one side.’ And he also said, very importantly, ‘On their own or even together, you would not take those statements,’ meaning the statements of the secret witnesses, as you call them, ‘as proof of murder.’ The judge could not have been any clearer than that.
Absolutely. But did the jury take it on board? Did the defence counsel…and I’ve studied, obviously, the evidence and the cross-examination of the Tamihere trial, and I can assure you that they weren’t asked the questions they should have been asked if the defence had had proper information about these people. I mean, let’s be quite frank, the police obviously don’t like calling them. They’re a last resort. You think of the cases that we know they’ve been called in. Right? The Scott Watson case, for instance, the Stephen Hudson case – all cases where the evidence is weak or there’s no bodies, things like that. They’re only called as a last resort, so why are the police calling them? Because they need them there to prop up their case. They wouldn’t be called on if their evidence wasn’t considered important.
All right. So, there were a raft of witnesses in the Tamihere trial – trampers, eyewitnesses, shop owners, hairdressers. A ton of people gave evidence. How significant was the testimony of the jailhouse informants, and specifically Harris’ testimony?
Okay. Well, anyone that knows anything about the Swede murder case, right, knows that crucial evidence – and Justice Whata in his sentencing of Harrison noted this – the evidence of the two trampers. Now, initially, the trial judge, Justice Tompkins, ruled that evidence inadmissible. He said it was unreliable, couldn’t be relied on. The Court of Appeal, in their wisdom, let it back in. Now, one of the linchpins the Court of Appeal used to allow that evidence back in was the evidence of Harris, because Harris is saying, ‘Oh, Tamihere’s told me that two trampers came across him in the bush.’ Now, of course, he’s learnt that from the news media, and we now know it’s lies.
So the evidence of the two trampers, who say they saw David Tamihere in the clearing with a blonde woman, was admissible because the Appeal Court decided that Harris’ evidence corroborated it, giving it more strength?
That’s right. The only change between Justice Tompkins ruling it inadmissible and the Court of Appeal ruling it admissible was Harris has now come forward and said, ‘Well, Tamihere’s confessed to me that these trampers come across him.’
So how would you characterise Harris’ evidence, then, in terms of the importance of the trial?
Absolutely crucial, and I can take you to paragraph 39 of Justice Whata’s sentencing notes. He considered it—the tramper evidence was crucial. Without the tramper evidence, there would have been no real case against Tamihere. The only real reason it appears to have got him is because Harris is bolstering it up.
All right. So, then Witness C, as we knew him at the time— Witness C’s evidence was effectively discredited when Sven Hoglin’s body was found, because the cause of death did not match the evidence that he had given in court.
That’s right.
And Hoglin still had his watch on him, and Witness C had claimed that Tamihere had taken that watch.
But the Court of Appeal considered all of that and said, ‘We would be surprised if the jury had given any credence to any of the detail in the stories Tamihere was said to have told the jailhouse witnesses.’ So in ordinary people’s language, the Court of Appeal, even looking at the evidence after Sven Hoglin’s body was found, said, ‘It doesn’t matter. The evidence is strong enough to convict David Tamihere even without those three secret witnesses.’
Well, that’s— Sorry.
So what makes you think–? My question, Mr Taylor, is – what makes you think you know better than the Court of Appeal?
It’s not that I know better; it’s that a lot of people are now of the same opinion as me. And I look at it from, well, basically, a fundamental fairness of what’s supposed to be the justice system. Without that evidence—It’s all very well for the Court of Appeal to sit back. They didn’t see the witnesses. They weren’t in the courtroom. They weren’t immersed in the atmosphere of the trial. You ask anyone that was at that trial—I mean, John Tamihere, David’s brother, he gave evidence at the trial – sorry, at the trial for perjury in August 2017. He considered it was crucial. David has always said the moment that Harris gave evidence, he knew that any chance of acquittal was over.
So you, basically, believe that Harris’ evidence and the evidence of those secret witnesses, as you would call them, led specifically to David Tamihere’s conviction for two murders?
Well, yes, I do. Basically, I do, but, I mean, as I said earlier, the police obviously needed them to convict David Tamihere or they wouldn’t have been called. That’s what we look at as well.
All right. But if we take what you’re saying at face value, that would mean that we can’t trust juries to decide who is telling the truth, and doesn’t that undermine the entire jury system?
No. You can trust juries to tell who is telling the truth. I mean, they obviously said to Harris at the trial in August, ‘We haven’t got “stupid” written on our foreheads.’ You know? So you can trust them to discern who’s telling the truth, but they need information, Lisa. You know our old tech term, ‘Garbage in, garbage out’? That’s what happens. If the jury doesn’t have all the information that they need to make a proper assessment of their credibility, then you can’t expect them to. And it’s particularly understanding the dynamics that operate on these people that are in prison. They’ve got no hope; they’re in prison.
I want to talk to you soon about what juries should be told, but before we move on, and I don’t wish to retry the Tamihere case here, but I am going to put it to you that that verdict can still be right even if the jailhouse witnesses are lying, because isn’t it about the totality of evidence?
So this doesn’t necessarily mean that David Tamihere is innocent.
It absolutely doesn’t mean David Tamihere—Although, I think he is, and during our enquiries, we actually uncovered the ident—or, we didn’t uncover it; other people were aware of it – of a man who was actually probably the real murderer. All right? And I can give you his name, Lisa. Right? And I’m not the only one that thinks it. This guy made a deathbed confession to a district nurse. But, anyway, getting back to your question, judges tell juries—It’s like circumstantial evidence. The Court of Appeal has agreed, and everyone does, that the whole Tamihere case was based on circumstantial evidence – thin strands of a rope. But once those strands start breaking away, the rope’s not going to hold up any more, is it?
And you believe the rope doesn’t hold up any more?
I absolutely don’t. No, I don’t, and any fair-minded person would be of similar mind, I believe.
Okay. So does winning this perjury case against Harris actually change anything for David Tamihere? Because he’s still a convicted double murderer, and he’s still on lifetime parole, and he has exhausted every appeal option available to him.
That’s right. Well, I believe – and as you probably understand, I do know a wee bit about criminal law – that Mr Tamihere now has fresh evidence, i.e. the guilty verdict against Harris, eight counts of perjury. Right? Eight counts. Also there is other fresh evidence that is available to him that he can advance – like, he’s had it before, but cumulatively now. And also a very important point – and this is how Dean Wickliffe had his conviction overturned back in the late ‘80s – there was improper disclosure here. The police did not disclose to the Tamihere defence details of Harris’ previous lies in trying to incriminate another man as to a double murder. You see?
So that is enough to get, in my humble opinion, a Section 406a application to the Governor-General and ask for a retrial. And he’d be acquitted; I absolutely feel that in my bones.
Prison inmate Arthur Taylor successfully prosecuted convicted murderer Roberto Conchie Harris for perjury, after Harris lied when giving evidence against David Tamihere in a double murder trial in 1990.
Harris was one of three jailhouse informants at the trial, known as Witnesses A, B and C.
I asked Arthur Taylor what evidence there is that those witnesses got inducements of any kind in return for giving evidence.
Let’s look at the one I’m most familiar with – Harris, okay? Harris was in for a particularly heinous double murder, all right? A young couple. He left the bodies there for the three young schoolchildren to find, all right? Okay?
Yep. Shot them execution-style.
Harris had done nine years when he was paroled. Now, you just don’t do nine years for a double heinous murder. Let’s go back a bit further.
So what are you saying? What happened?
Okay. Detective Inspector Hughes, who was the OIC of the Tamihere case flew to the parole board in Christchurch and spoke up on Mr Harris’ behalf. ‘Great citizen,’ you know? ‘We can let him out,’ you know? Police
No, I’ll stop you there. That police officer maintains that, yes, he went to the parole hearing, and he informed the parole board that Mr Harris had given evidence and assisted the police in this case, but that is where the line in the sand was, in the police’s view.
That’s what he’s saying. I know that the parole board records weren’t obtained, all right? And I know how parole boards operate, Lisa, all right? You’ve got a senior detective inspector coming here thatMr Hughes had quite a reputation at that stage, all right? He’s coming here, in front of the parole board, and he’s supporting him. He doesn’t need to say much, Lisa. Just his mere presence is enough. Let’s look forward. The parole board didn’t let him out straight away. They let him out about nine months later. So he was back on the street within one year of giving his evidence in the Tamihere trial.
So you think that was a back-door reward for his evidence?
A guy like Harris – you don’t need to spell it out in black and white, Lisa. Clear understanding that he gives evidence – and it’s got to be favourable to the police, because he’s not going to get any rewards unless it is favourable to the police – they will help him out. Absolutely. That’s how it operates.
Did he get anything else that you know of?
Well, I certainly know that he was released, I believe, around about November ’92. Within weeks of being released, he was committing serious crimes in the community – up around Pakiri, places like that. Orewa. They were getting covered up by the police. He didn’t appear until he got really out of control and started running around with a shotgun and
That is a serious allegation, Mr Taylor. He was recalled to prison because of offences, so someone reported him. Someone followed up.
Absolutely. When the smell got too much, they couldn’t keep covering it up. That’s what happened, Lisa. I can guarantee you that.
What about the other two? Witnesses A and B did they get anything?
The other two? Well, I can’t name them. I can only name Kapa, of course.
Yep. The other one still has name suppression.
Yeah. Obviously, I would like to have prosecuted both Kapa and theOh, sorry. And the other one. We’ll call him Secret Witness A. He’s a particularly nasty piece of work – worse than Harris.
So, let’s start with Witness B, which is Stephen Kapa. So, do you know if he got anything?
I know that when Kapa was released from prison, within… Very shortly around after the Tamihere trial concluded, Kapa was quite often regularly breaking the law around Tokoroa and places like that, and, funny enough, he never went back to prison, ever, until he died in a road accident.
Okay. Let’s come back to Witness A a little bit later. But juries are made aware that there are deals made. And in Tamihere’s case, with Witness A, who was on drugs charges—
Mm. Serious ones.
You know the court record as well as I do.
In the evidential record, it was discussed in front of the jury the fact that he was on drugs charges and that he anticipated he would get more lenient treatment, or wished for more lenient treatment, as a result of giving evidence. So the jury knew that he thought he was going to get a sweet deal.
Well, yes, but they may not
So the jury knew that.
Well, they wouldn’t have known the extent of it, Lisa. And I’ll tell you now that $50,000 was paid out in rewards on another case that he gave evidence in, all right? We don’t know exactly who, because the police will not disclose that information, all right? But he didn’t only give evidence againstThis guy, virtually, had a white collar. He must have had a white collar. About five or six people at that particular time in Mt Eden prison, when he was supposedly there, confessed to this guy, you know? He took more confessions, as I say, than the average priest, you know?
So, these witnesses in the Tamihere case gave jailhouse evidence in other cases as well. They had track records, is what you’re saying.
Absolutely. We know absolutely that Witness A and WitnessSorry, Harris. Yes. Absolutely. And is still, as recently as a few years ago, touting for business, Harris was – as a police witness.
In a high-profile case?
Yes. Another one.
Okay. So, how open are the prosecution and police about all of this stuff?
Well, you see…
I mean, do you have any figures or any evidence about the number of jailhouse informants they have used, the number of payments they have made, the value of those payments?
They won’t release those figures, as you probably know. You ask for them under the OIA, you won’t get it. All right? But I’m telling you now, from anecdotal evidence – and I have feelers right out among the criminal community across New Zealand – the prison community, I should say – there’s a hell of a lot. In fact, I can tell you right now, Lisa, there’s two very high-profile cases coming up in which they plan on using secret witnesses.
By secret witnesses, you mean jailhouse informants? Cellmate confessions.
Absolutely. Alleged cellmate confessions, yes.
People listening to this will think that you have a vested interest in shutting down so-called jailhouse narks, because you are a man who has committed crimes behind bars as well. So it’s in your best interest for this to have a chilling effect on people who might dob you or any other prisoner in.
If that was my motive, Lisa, believe me, it would have surfaced a lot longer ago when I was involved in crime. I wouldn’t have waited until I’d retired from crime, all right? You’ve got to remember the last criminal offence I was convicted of supposedly occurred in 2007, all right? And I would’ve been more motivated and gone after the secret witnesses
You’re pursuing this for noble reasons, for a bigger principle?
I’m pursuing it out of principle to protect the integrity of our criminal justice system, because it’s got a bad smell around it now with these secret witnesses.
So, the jailhouse witness known as Witness A, who is the remaining witness from the Tamihere case, who still has name suppression what are you doing in respect of that person? Are you doing anything?
Witness A? Yes, I am doingI’m certainly trying to locate where he is. I’ve got private detectives in Fiji and other places looking for him, you know, and putting the word out where he is. He’s disappeared completely. Could be dead, as far as we know.
You’re a serving inmate. How can you afford a private detective?
Well, let’s just say I’ve got like-minded people out in the community who are very interested in protecting the integrity of our criminal justice system. And they do their bit, and I do my bit.
So, is it your ambition to charge him with perjury as well?
Well, if we manage to locate him, even if he’s overseas, I’ll be asking the government to extradite him. Yes, because I believe I’ve got more than sufficient evidence available to prosecute him.
Is that your job? Isn’t that the police’s job?
No, it is the police’s job, but why aren’t they doing it, you know? See, like I said right at the start of the interview, Lisa, the message was out there – you can lie with impunity. No one has ever been charged. No one’s ever been charged. So someone had to do something about it. I want the message to get out to these secret witnesses that if you lie in court, and you’re caught, don’t rely on the police to just cover it up, because I might come after you.
So, Newshub Nation has spoken to a number of people who work on both sides of the legal divide, and a lot of them don’t want a ban on jailhouse informants, because they say this some prisoners tell the truth.
Well, I’ve yet to meet one involved in any of these cases, or even hear of one, that has told the truth.
So, hang on a minute, if you believe that all prisoners consistently lie, why am I sitting here listening to you?
Well, Lisa, I’m not saying prisoners consistently lie. I’m saying that prisoners that are going to get significant rewards, right? Such as their freedom, right? I was personally involved in a case where a guy, instead of getting 12 years’ jail, he got five and a half years – supposedly for the great public good he did. And he was no sooner out of jail The first day he was out – because this is, again, something that’s consistent – he’s committing serious crimes. Bank robberies.
So you’re saying where people are given lesser sentences or some kind of inducement, the compulsion to lie is very high?
Absolutely. I’m going to put it this way, Lisa. Let’s say I trotted into court for one of my cases with a witness and it turned out I’d paid him $10,000 or $20,000. Some of these guys can be bought very cheap. Right? What do you think the judge would say? He’d say, ‘Get out of here, Mr Taylor. This guy’s bought and paid for.’ But, you know, because it’s the police, the authority of the state behind it, they’re allowed to testify. What I’m arguing for, Lisa, is that we do something they have in Canada, where they’ve had problems along exactly what I’m talking about. There have been several high-profile cases in Canada, and one of them was the Thomas Sophonow case, and—
So they’ve had a number of cases where it’s been found after the fact that they were unsafe convictions because there were jailhouse informants?
Absolutely. These are—
So how have they changed their laws, and what would you like us to do?
Okay. Well, what they’ve done, Manitoba – the province of Manitoba in Canada – they had a particularly difficult one with a guy called Sophonow – a particularly very high-profile case where this happened. And this guy’s absolutely innocent. I think there was about five of these jailhouse witnesses coming forward and giving evidence. The guy was completely innocent, it was proven. They brought in guidelines, and they brought these guidelines in about 2002. Since 2002, only basic things, like, you know, checking whether they could have got the evidence – what they’re saying is being told to them by the accused – from somewhere else, like newspapers or places like that – TV. Basic checks on the validity, the credibility of the evidence. They haven’t had one single jailhouse witness since 2001 that has been able to pass the threshold.
And, also, as I understand it, that in California and Canada, you require independent corroboration. You cannot convict someone solely on the evidence of a jailhouse informant.
Yep. In California, they’ve had, for a long time, an accomplice direction under their law, where an accomplice can’t give evidence against an accuser unless it’s corroborated. And I think it was about 2011, California passed another law, amended that, and included jailhouse witnesses among it. They’ve got to be corroborated.
Should we have that in New Zealand?
Absolutely, because of the particular danger of this type of evidence.
All right. So, the Law Commission reviews the Evidence Act periodically, every five years or so, and I believe that they’re currently in the throes of one of those reviews. You’ve got a matter of seconds. What would you say to them about reviewing that act?
I would say to them that they need to talk with people that have encountered these people, and they need to look at what happened in Manitoba, and perhaps— Well, I’ve got the Manitoba guidelines here. But, perhaps, adopt them holus-bolus.
Should there be a register where the payments made and discussions had with informants are registered and are discoverable for the defence?
Well, in the Manitoba guidelines, that’s precisely that. There’s got to be a register – a province-wide register of these informants. And what could be regarded as inducement, all things that might have borne on the validity of their evidence have got to be disclosed so the jury can know about it.
Right. So you want that here?
Absolutely. Yes, I do. That’s at least some sort of safeguard so the jury knows. These witnesses aren’t there giving evidence because of their great simply civic duty. They’re there because of their self-interest, generally. So the jury needs to know what is bearing on them giving evidence.
Are you here out of your self-interest?
No, I’m not, Lisa. No. No. I’ll tell you what, if I was here out of my self-interest, do you think the first prosecution I would’ve bought would’ve been against the ratbag that gave secret evidence against me 20-something years ago? Unfortunately, his name’s supressed.

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