Controversial Crime Stories

The Crewe murders were New Zealand's first controversial court case to be played out in the television age. In the decades since, several other controversial cases have been the subject of high profile documentaries and films. This Spotlight collection includes award-winner Relative Guilt, about the David Wayne Tamihere case, a spirited discussion on the David Bain case, and Scott Watson documentary Murder on the Blade?. The latter was directed by Keith Hunter, one of our leading “miscarriage of justice” filmmakers.

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Murder on the Blade?

Television, 2003 (Documentary, Crime)

Subtitled A Journalist's View, this award-winning documentary makes the case that Scott Watson shouldn't have been imprisoned for murdering Ben Smart and Olivia Hope — because he couldn't have done it. Returning to Endeavour Inlet, veteran director Keith Hunter talks to witnesses, and argues the prosecution fumbled vital details of the murderer's yacht and description, then advanced a new theory without evidence to back it. Hunter went on to write 2007 book Trial by Trickery, further critiquing what he calls “New Zealand's most blatantly dishonest prosecution”.

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Relative Guilt

Television, 1999 (Documentary)

When a young Swedish couple went missing on a camping holiday in New Zealand in 1989, the investigation into their disappearance attracted intense media interest. Months later David Wayne Tamihere was arrested and charged with their murders. The subsequent guilty verdict cast Tamihere's family into a nightmare. The Tamihere family were abused, ridiculed and scorned relentlessly by an outraged public, and an insatiable media. Ten years on, Pooley's documentary tells their story. The result won the 2000 Qantas Media Award for Best Documentary.

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The Confessions of Prisoner T

Television, 2013 (Documentary, Māori)

In 1994, Teina Pora was found guilty of the rape and murder of Susan Burdett. He spent 22 years behind bars despite physical evidence implicating someone else, and concerns over the reliability of Pora's confession. In this Māori Television documentary, director Michael Bennett examines the case against Pora, and private investigator Tim McKinnel's belief in his innocence. This excerpt includes footage from Pora’s original police interview and a visit where he fails to identify Burdett’s house. In 2015 the Privy Council quashed Pora's conviction

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Holmes - Joe Karam and James McNeish on David Bain

Television, 1997 (News/Current Affairs)

In May 1995, 22-year old David Bain was convicted of murdering five members of his family with a rifle in their Dunedin home. Bain would spend over a decade in prison before being acquitted on all charges. National debate around the 1995 verdict was galvanised by the release of two conflicting books on the case — Joe Karam’s David and Goliath and James McNeish’s The Mask of Sanity. The former All Black and the writer go head-to-head in this often testy Holmes debate from 1997. Ten years later, the Privy Council quashed Bain’s 1995 conviction; he was acquitted in a 2009 retrial.   

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Until Proven Innocent

Television, 2009 (Thriller, Drama)

Until Proven Innocent is based on the case of David Dougherty, and the lawyer, scientist and journalist who concluded he had been wrongly convicted. In 1993 Dougherty was jailed for the rape and abduction of an 11-year-old girl. This dramatisation follows the campaign to prove his innocence: court appeals, journalism, and a key piece of DNA evidence. Chosen to open 2009's Sunday Theatre season the tele-movie was nominated for 10 Qantas Awards, and won five, including best drama and best actor (for Cohen Holloway's standout performance as Dougherty).

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Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Film, 1980 (Crime, Drama)

This feature is a dramatized reconstruction of actual events surrounding a notorious miscarriage of justice. Farmer Arthur Allan Thomas was jailed for the murder of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe but later exonerated. Directed by John Laing, produced by John Barnett and starring well-known English actor David Hemmings (Blowup, Barbarella), the docudrama leveraged the immense public interest in the case (Thomas was pardoned when the film was in pre-production). It became NZ's most successful commercial film until Goodbye Pork Pie.

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Kaleidoscope - Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Television, 1980 (Arts/Culture)

TVNZ’s arts programme Kaleidoscope visits production of John Laing’s film based on David Yallop’s book about “New Zealand’s greatest and most controversial murder” — the 1969 killings of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe at Pukekawa, and the subsequent conviction and eventual pardon of their neighbour Arthur Allan Thomas. A primer on film production as much as the film itself, there are extended visits to two locations. Interviewees include producer John Barnett, director Laing, first assistant director Murray Newey and the recently freed Thomas, who observes a courtroom sequence.

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Queer Nation - Peter Ellis: A Question of Justice

Television, 2003 (Magazine, LGBT, Lifestyle)

The first part of this disturbing double documentary focuses on the man accused of molesting seven children in a Christchurch crèche in 1992. The programme is divided into seven chapters, in which Ellis talks about his accusation and arrest, the trial, his prison sentence, his two appeals and his eventual release in 2000. Ellis initially thought the accusation was so ridiculous that it would soon get sorted out. Instead, he was found guilty on 16 charges and convicted to 10 years imprisonment, despite the lack of any conclusive evidence.

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Queer Nation - Peter Ellis: A Queer Perspective

Television, 2003 (Magazine, LGBT, Lifestyle)

Part two of a programme about the man accused of molesting children in a Christchurch crèche in 1992. This episode looks at how Ellis's gay sexuality permeated the case, and influenced public opinion. It also focuses on the gay community's lack of support, and proposes some reasons for this. Interviewees include Lynley Hood, whose book A City Possessed injected some much-needed objectivity into the case, Jay Bennie, from the gay media, lesbian psychologist Miriam Saphira, and criminologist Greg Newbold.