Did racism play a part in a controversial murder case?

by Mike White / 17 July, 2018
Rex Haig.

Rex Haig died late in 2017, still fighting for compensation for the 10 years he spent in jail. Photo/North & South

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Concerns are being raised that racism played a part in the police investigation of a controversial murder case. Rex Haig was convicted in 1995 of murdering Mark Roderique, a crewman on his fishing boat, and served 10 years in jail before his conviction was quashed.

In an interview with North & South, the policeman who led the investigation, former detective sergeant Brian Hewett, insists Haig was the killer, despite considerable concerns about the evidence that convicted him.

“He was ruthless. He was the man that wouldn’t have a conscience. I don’t like to say, but he’s part Asian. They seem to treat life a bit differently to the rest of us, in that life seems to be, in Asian countries – is cheap.”

Haig’s father was Chinese and arrived in New Zealand in 1928. Haig’s mother was European, and Haig was born in Dunedin in 1947. He never met his birth father. Haig was adopted at three weeks by Joyce and Vern Haig and grew up in Otago and Southland. He only visited China once, as an adult.

One of Haig’s daughters, Angela Haig-McAuliffe, says Hewett’s comments show “racism. That’s insane, just insane. It’s quite audacious, really, that he’s prepared to say those sorts of things publicly. Imagine what he says to friends and family. When people say those things – and it’s now 25 years later – they’re obviously trying to go, ‘we got the bastard and I’m really proud of that fact.’

“He’s got no idea what he’s talking about. Dad was a charmer. People would gravitate to him. He was easy-going and amazing with [my] kids. The kids just loved him.”

Haig died late last year, still fighting for compensation for the years he spent in jail. A North & South investigation (see the full story in the current issue on sale now), raises serious concerns about the witnesses who helped convict him, and the possibility crucial documents were withheld.

Haig lawyer concerned about detective's bias in other cases

Haig’s appeal lawyer, Jonathan Eaton QC, describes Hewett’s comments as “extraordinary” and says he is “flabbergasted” Hewett would make them.

“When you look back at the Haig case there’s always been a question mark as to why the police became fixated with Rex, in the face of what we considered and described as a significant body of evidence suggesting he ought not be the proper, and certainly not the sole, focus – and perhaps you’ve uncovered the answer.”  

Eaton stresses he has no problem with experienced investigators using “a bit of gut instinct”.

“But his instinct is flawed on so many levels – putting aside the most offensive of them. To what extent did he let that shape every aspect of the investigation? And how many other people have been convicted as a result of this detective’s instinct, based on his own inherent prejudices and biases? It’s a worry, isn’t it?”

Hewett, now retired, served more than 36 years in the police, was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for Public Service in the 2006 Queen’s Birthday Honours, and received a Commissioner’s Commendation for his service, in 2009. He is perhaps best known for the conviction of Jarrod Mangels for murdering Arrowtown woman Maureen McKinnel. Mangels was arrested 15 years after the crime thanks to advances in DNA analysis. Hewett later said he would contact two other men who had been the investigation’s prime suspects, one of whom reportedly moved back to Australia because of being wrongly suspected.

Rex Haig.

Rex Haig spent much of his working life at sea as a fisherman and a commercial diver. Photo/North & South

How Rex Haig's conviction came to be quashed

Rex Haig was convicted of murdering Mark Roderique at Jackson Bay in February 1994, based almost entirely on the claims of the two other crewmen, Tony Sewell, and Haig’s 18-year-old nephew, David Hogan.

Hogan had dishonesty convictions and repeatedly changed his story. Sewell was a convicted perjurer and only claimed Haig was responsible after he was arrested for being an accessory, and told by police that Hogan had accused Haig. Both men only implicated Haig after police made offers of immunity and a reward. Hogan received $13,000 and Sewell $7000 and both were granted immunity from prosecution in return for testifying against Haig. Hogan’s evidence was particularly crucial, as he claimed to have seen Haig kill Roderique.

However, two QCs who investigated the case for the government, and the Court of Appeal, all strongly questioned Hogan’s honesty and evidence.

The Court of Appeal stated: “The reality is that the new evidence casts major doubts on the reliability of Hogan’s evidence and, as well, provides an evidential basis for the proposition that Hogan murdered the deceased.”

In an additional comment, Justice Grant Hammond noted: “In my view, the critical factor is that Mr Hogan’s evidence has now been shown to be utterly unreliable.”

Hewett doubts Hogan's credibility

Even Hewett appears to accept his star witness may have lied.

When asked if he believed Hogan might have been more involved in Roderique’s murder than he claimed at Haig’s trial, Hewett answered: “It’s possible,” adding, “Bear in mind, his credibility wasn’t great, and that was shown in court, really.”

Hewett admits that without Hogan’s controversial evidence, “the case would never, ever have gone to court. We would not have ever had a case.”

Asked if Hogan told the truth in court, Hewett replied: “I don’t know – but I can’t prove he didn’t.”

Fourteen people have provided affidavits claiming Hogan either admitted killing Roderique himself or was involved in some way. But Hewett puts many of these down to Hogan being “high on dope” and big-noting.

“People can tell as many lies as they like, but he was given immunity to tell the truth in court… and that’s when you’ve got to tell the truth. And unless you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that what he said in court was not the truth – well, sorry.”  

Hewett describes Roderique as “a druggie”; Sewell as “pissed”; Hogan as “a soft cock”; and Haig as “ruthless”.

When questioned about this view of Haig, given Haig had no criminal convictions, unlike Hogan, Hewett points to Haig’s efforts to prevent bankruptcy, his racial heritage, and a story he’d heard. “He was a diver over in Asia. And there were a couple of rumours that this went – I don’t know what happened over there – but that he dealt to someone over there, apparently. But that was a rumour.”

Hewett says he has no doubt Haig was rightly convicted. “I’m not about putting the wrong person in jail, never have been, and I’m satisfied I put the right person in jail.”

But, Haig’s trial lawyer, Colin Withnall QC, accuses Hewett of tunnel vision in his investigation. “They had just decided Haig was guilty and they set out to prove it by whatever means they could, including witnesses with such a lack of credibility as Hogan and Sewell.

“Let’s not forget that we’re dealing with a bunch of police here who were very, very anxious to get a conviction, to nail Rex Haig on this.”

Withnall says he has never heard an investigator say anything like Hewett’s comments regarding Haig’s racial background and how this may be related to him being a murderer.

“But I can say this – that it actually doesn’t surprise me, knowing the man who made the comment… I think that demonstrates the comment I made about tunnel vision.”

Police are attempting to distance themselves from Hewett, saying he is “long-retired” and that “the comments are his personal view. He does not speak on behalf of the New Zealand police, and his comments do not reflect the view of the organisation.”

Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers insists police deal with facts and evidence. “There is no place for bias in the police.”

However, police won't answer questions about whether Hewett’s views caused any concern about the investigation into Rex Haig, or whether they would review other cases Hewett had been involved with, to ensure racial bias played no part in their outcome. Nor would the police say whether Hewett’s 2009 Commissioner’s Commendation would be reconsidered, in light of his comments.

A spokesperson for police minister Stuart Nash says Hewett's comments say "more about himself than about police."

You can read more about the murky deals done to convict Rex Haig and the crucial questions authorities refuse to answer in the August August issue of North & South, on sale now.


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