Did racism play a part in a controversial murder case?
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.