28 Aug 2017

Swedish backpacker murder trial witness in court

7:54 pm on 28 August 2017

A witness in one of the country's most high-profile murder trials has himself faced trial today, accused of perjury.

Known as Witness C, the man is facing a private prosecution in the High Court in Auckland, accused of lying at the 1989 trial of David Tamihere.

Exterior of the Auckland High Court

The High Court in Auckland Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Former MP John Tamihere has told the High Court that a secret witness gave compelling but false evidence at his brother's murder trial.

Mr Tamihere's brother, David Tamihere, was convicted in 1990 of the murders of Swedish tourists Heidi Paakkonen and Sven Hoglin.

Mr Tamihere said Witness C told the trial that his brother had admitted sexually molesting both tourists, killing them, taking a watch from Mr Hoglin's body and dumping the bodies at sea.

But Mr Tamihere said a year after his brother was convicted, Mr Hoglin's body was found buried near Whangamata and the watch was still with the skeletal remains.

Five years after the case Witness C contacted him to say he had lied, and later signed an affidavit to confirm he had not told the truth.

The Crown's case against David Tamihere in 1990 was circumstantial. At the time, the police had no bodies but one of the witnesses they did have was Witness C - a prison inmate.

Arthur Taylor

Arthur Taylor Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker-Wilson

Lawyer Murray Gibson is prosecuting the case on behalf of inmate Arthur Taylor. In his opening address to the jurors he said Witness C's evidence was persuasive and powerful.

"He gave evidence as a prison inmate who said he was told by David Tamihere of his involvement in the crime."

The prosecution's case is that Witness C said Tamihere told him he had met the tourists at a camping area before sexually assaulting both of them, killing them and dumping their bodies at sea.

But Mr Gibson said it was all a lie.

"And he said that he did so for personal reward and for other advantages that the police were offering to him, such as assisting him in his upcoming parole hearing."

Tamihere was convicted.

Mr Gibson said a year after the trial, Mr Hoglin's body was found buried outside the Coromandel town of Whangamata - which shows the evidence of dumping a body at sea was false.

But in 1995, Witness C swore an affidavit confirming he had lied. Years later he wrote a letter to Tamihere, saying he would make a statement to exonerate him.

Mr Gibson said the prosecution case will call evidence from Tamihere. The jurors will also hear evidence from a pathologist.

Witness C's lawyer Adam Simperingham said there was no perjury because his client was only repeating false information that Tamihere had told him.

"You'll need to look at whether Mr Tamihere might have deliberately planted mis-information with a view, for example, to putting the police off his scent, putting them off a land-based search by saying that he'd disposed the bodies at sea."

Mr Simperingham said his client accepts that he later recanted his evidence but told the jurors to keep in mind the issue of retribution.

"Was his intention to avoid violence at the hands of other inmates who wished to occasion retribution upon him?"

He said his client had given evidence for the Crown and in prison terms "he was a nark".

Tamihere has always maintained his innocence, and was released on parole in 2010.

The trial is before Justice Whata and a jury is set down for two weeks.