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Mark Lundy. Photo/Mike White

Mark Lundy: 20 years of lies, cover-ups and incompetence

I didn’t want to write about Mark Lundy’s case. I’d been approached in December 2007 by Lundy supporter Geoff Levick at a conference in Wellington because I’d just written a story about Scott Watson, controversially convicted of murdering Ben Smart and Olivia Hope. Levick thought I’d be interested in what he’d discovered about Lundy’s case, but I wasn’t overly enthusiastic – I assumed Lundy was guilty of killing his wife and daughter, and lawyer Greg King told me the evidence would be difficult to challenge.

But I agreed to have dinner with Levick at a Japanese restaurant near the Supreme Court, and he left me with the draft of a book he’d written, the result of several years picking apart the evidence Lundy had been convicted on in 2002. A few weeks later, I fished out the draft during a ferry trip and realised how little I actually knew about the case.

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I think that’s the situation for most New Zealanders – they’ve heard lots about Lundy and seen the footage of him at the funeral of wife Christine and seven-year-old daughter Amber, wailing and collapsing in what seemed overplayed histrionics. But beyond that and a few other things – his crazy drive to Palmerston North to kill his family, shagging a prostitute the same night – I found people really didn’t know much about the evidence that purported to show Lundy was the culprit. Their belief in his guilt was a gut reaction.

I sat on the story for six months, still dubious it could be as bad as Levick claimed. It took a chat with my editor in mid-2008, when she gave me a month to investigate further, before I began dissecting what happened that night at the Lundys’ plain, weatherboard house in Karamea Cres, Palmerston North. In the end, it took me three months to prepare the story (published in February 2009).

What happened after that was, well, protracted. Protracted, frustrating and troubling. The evidence we’d turned up eventually led to London’s Privy Council quashing Lundy’s conviction in 2013 and ordering a retrial.

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I then attended a two-week pre-trial hearing, a Court of Appeal hearing, Lundy’s two-month High Court retrial in 2015 where he was again found guilty, and then his subsequent appeals to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. And I was there on 20 December last year when judge Mark O’Regan strode into the Supreme Court and read a prepared statement saying the court was satisfied of Lundy’s guilt, concluding: “The formal order of the court is: the appeal is dismissed.”

This final rebuke and legal curtsey took six minutes. Six minutes to supposedly close 20 years of argument and anger and grief and hatred. But it won’t do that, because not only did the court’s hearing and judgment contain assumptions, curious assertions, arguable prejudice and errors, it gave its imprimatur to evidence so unreliable it should hold no place in our courts. It also implicitly endorsed an investigation so slipshod and substandard in countless aspects it is difficult to have confidence in our justice system if this is considered acceptable.

But then, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we have to accept imperfections and incompetence in such investigations. Maybe none of the courtroom mistakes and judicial errors matter. Maybe Mark Lundy is as guilty as everyone seems to want to make him.

But I’m not so sure. And I think everyone, from Christine, to Amber, to their families, to Mark Lundy himself and even the public, deserves far better than what this case has displayed.

Read Mike White’s comprehensive account of the Lundy trials – and many tribulations, in the new April issue of North & South, on sale now.

Lundy’s case will likely be one of the first considered by the new Criminal Cases Review Commission, established by this government and due to begin investigating potential miscarriages of justice in July. Justice Minister Andrew Little has announced Colin Carruthers QC will head the body, supported by an initial advisory panel including private investigator Tim McKinnel, forensic scientist Anna Sandiford and lawyer Nigel Hampton – all whom have vital experience in wrongful conviction cases. The CCRC won’t be a complete panacea, but it will provide a crucial, independent avenue to seek justice for those who feel they’ve been falsely accused and convicted. For many years, North & South has championed a CCRC, and, whatever you think of Mark Lundy’s conviction, it’s truly worth celebrating this important body’s long-overdue creation.

This editorial was first published in the April 2020 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to our fortnightly email for more long-form journalism.