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What We Lost When We Lost 3D – Paula Penfold’s History of the Teina Pora Investigation

After yesterday’s grim news that 3D has been axed by Mark Weldon and MediaWorks, we thought back to a recent speech by one of the show’s journalists. Half a year and what feels like a lifetime ago – when Campbell Live and 3D were going concerns – Paula Penfold spoke to the Wintec Press Club about her team’s momentous work on the Teina Pora story.

The Press Club’s president-for-life (and Spinoff Books editor) Steve Braunias asked Penfold’s permission to reproduce her speech from that sunny day in May. It speaks to the scale of the work she and her team did on that case specifically, and more broadly just what we lost as a society and democracy with yesterday’s decision. 

The text is reproduced below, peppered with images from the investigation and a series of poignant tweets Penfold issued yesterday, accompanied by the message #journalism.

Today I’m here to talk about Teina Pora and our journalism into his case. Unfortunately, unable to be here with me is the best investigative journalist I know. Without his meticulous work, our investigation would never have even got off the ground – let alone lasted for three years. Eugene Bingham is the producer of all our stories. I’m lucky that in this discipline of long form current affairs we get to work as a team and I’m grateful it’s Eugene I work with. But our programme is back on air in a few weeks’ time and somebody needs to be doing some work…

I would also like to acknowledge private investigator Tim McKinnel, whose instincts and belief in this case and in Teina Pora are the reason Teina is a free man today. Tim was a detective in South Auckland in the late ’90s when the Teina Pora case was going to retrial. He heard the misgivings of the police officers working on the case and around the traps. That stayed with him, till many years later he went to visit Teina Pora in prison to tell him of his concerns and ask him if he could begin work on his case.

He has spent five years doing just that, the vast majority of it unpaid. He brought on lawyers Jonathan Krebs and Ingrid Squire. As you’ll know they took the case to the Privy Council, and in March the Privy Council quashed Teina’s convictions for rape and murder. There will be no retrial so he is indeed free for the first time in 22 years. And quite honestly, if it weren’t for the work of Tim McKinnel, he wouldn’t be. He’d still be locked up in Paremoremo.

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For us, this investigation actually began with a great piece by the excellent investigative journalist Phil Taylor in the Weekend Herald. It was a front page lead in which the former police criminal profiler Detective Sergeant Dave “Chook” Henwood said he was worried the police had got the wrong guy in Teina Pora for the Susan Burdett crime, and it was something that had stuck in the craw ever since.

Eugene Bingham and I are both former police reporters – Eugene for the Herald and me for Radio New Zealand – and both of us had reported on the Burdett case and the case of serial rapist Malcolm Rewa back in the day. So this story of Phil’s was something that caught our attention, and we decided to have a closer look at it. I’m not sure we quite realised then what we were getting ourselves in for, but so the first of many stories began.

I’d also like to acknowledge the work of another crucial member of our team because television investigative journalism is a team sport.. it’s incredibly collaborative. Toby Longbottom has been the editor of all of our stories, crafting them together in the edit suite and giving us incredible editorial insight to help us try to distil all the screeds of information we have into something people would want to watch.

Background

Most of the detail of the case itself is now well known.

Susan Burdett was 39, an accounts clerk, who returned from her regular ten pin bowling night in March 1992 to her home in Papatoetoe where she was raped and murdered.

Teina Pora at that stage was a 16 year old quite prolific car thief, whose mother had died of cancer when he was only a pre-schooler. His father wasn’t on the scene, and he and his siblings had been brought up by their grandparents. By his teenage years he was a bit of a drifter.

But almost a year to the day after Susan Burdett was murdered and the police still hadn’t made an arrest, Teina was taken into the Otahuhu police station for questioning about some car crimes. He offered that he might have something on the case of Susan Burdett.  By that stage there’d been a reward of $20,000 offered for information which could lead to an arrest – and which also offered indemnity from prosecution.

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Teina spent the next five days at the police station being interviewed, with no lawyer present – though that wasn’t necessarily the fault of the Police. Remember he’d had a few run ins with the law over car conversion and so the arresting officer rang the lawyer who’d looked after him. And in the court documents we found what the officer told the court about his conversation with that lawyer, which went like this: This is the police officer talking about the lawyer

It was along the lines of ‘Is Teina in trouble again? I’m pretty busy, I’ve got better things to do than come down and sit on it. You can talk to him if you want but he doesn’t think he will go on a video’.

Teina did, of course, go on a video, and that video would become the central – arguably the only – element of the Crown case against him. What was described as a “confession”, even though there’s no “I did it” moment, and Teina’s story is full of lies and impossibilities. I’ll come back to that police interview a bit later.

That lawyer wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last to let down Teina Pora in a big way.

The rest in terms of the prosecution is history. Teina was convicted on the 15th of June 1994 of the rape and murder of Susan Burdett, even though there was no physical evidence, no DNA, nothing to place him at the scene.

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Retrial

In 1996 it looked like there might be a get out of jail card for Teina when DNA at the Burdett crime scene was identified as belonging to serial rapist Malcolm Rewa. He was twice convicted of her rape but there were two hung juries over the murder charge so he was never convicted of that. Which becomes now quite crucial and I’ll come back to that also.

In terms of the murder charge and what the jury was thinking, don’t forget Teina had already been convicted of the murder – and we’ve had contact from one Rewa juror, who told us that was confusing to them. They also knew that Rewa was going to go down for a long time for the rapes so they felt – I quote – “let off the hook”.

So Malcolm Rewa is convicted of the rapes but not the murder – but the discovery of his DNA means Teina Pora gets a retrial.

And the jury convicts him again.

By the time we came along in 2012, he’d been locked up for nearly 20 years.

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Teina

When we met him for the first time, it was in a car, parked in some side lane off Queen Street, in the rain. He was painting an old building with a crew. He sat in the front seat, us in the back and we listened, captivated. He wasn’t the monosyllabic teenager we’d seen in those police interviews from all those years ago.  He was now in his late 30s, tired of prison, and desperate to have his innocence heard. The outside world was a wondrous place to him. He’d seen the Sky Tower for the first time. Auckland was unrecognisable to him.

The investigation

Meeting him made us determined to continue doing what we could to help bring this miscarriage of justice to public attention.

So: how do you go about doing an investigation of this sort?

Well the first thing was to understand what was already on the public record.

And really there were two cases to get our heads around: one was the prosecution of Teina Pora, the other was the prosecution of Malcolm Rewa.

So that meant hours and hours and hours at the High Court going through boxes and boxes of documents. Some of which – like an affidavit from one of the officers who interviewed Teina Pora – would become particularly useful. Others, like the Victim impact statements in the Malcolm Rewa case, made for incredibly harrowing reading. But they prepared us well for the interviews we would end up doing with five of those victims.

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In terms of getting information out of the Police, things were, let’s just say, incredibly difficult. All we really had was the Official Information Act. Our experience in this case is that the Police flouted the rules of it at virtually every turn. We wouldn’t get answers inside the 20 working day maximum set out in the Act – and frequently our answers were just refused, often with the reason cited being “the maintenance of the law”. So we would have to complain to the Office of the Ombudsman. We still have a backlog of requests being handled by the Ombudsman stretching back more than a year.

We have no issue with the Ombudsman’s staff and how they deal with complaints, but they are under-resourced and, ask any investigative journalist, increasingly departments who are bound by the Official Information Act know that and it makes our job all the more difficult. We knew an innocent man was languishing in jail, and we were being thwarted in being able to tell that story.

The Footage

One of the crucial things we needed – and the police could have handed this over but refused to – was the footage of Teina’s Police interview that you saw a taste of earlier.

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From reading accounts of the trial, we knew those confessions had been videotaped. And from the moment we saw the footage, we knew without any doubt that Teina was an innocent man.

Watching them for the first time was incredibly frustrating – not just because they showed how susceptible and ensnared by his own lies Teina was. It was also frustrating because we couldn’t have them for broadcast. Tim McKinnel had shown us excerpts on a laptop. But they weren’t his to give us – we needed to follow proper channels, to obtain them from the Police.

So we used the Official Information Act to request them – that was August 2012. The Police refused on the basis that releasing them would prejudice Teina’s right to a fair trial should he ever have to face Court again.  Thankfully, eventually the Ombudsman agreed with us. In March 2013 we finally got copies of the recorded interviews. Though still not from the Police – the Ombudsman’s ruling made another source confident enough to give them to us.

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The impression we’d formed from watching the excerpts was only underlined further as we watched all nine hours of footage. There are times when he can’t spell or write simple words. There are frequent occasions when you can see him pausing as he’s wondering what’s the right answer to give.

But the most glaring is the scene which the police called “the reconstruction video”, when Teina is taken to Susan Burdett’s house. In fact, he was supposed to be taking them there, along the route he’d told them he followed…but he gets horribly lost and needs to be led there. When Detective Inspector Steve Rutherford is asking him if he recognises the house, and eventually points it out, saying “what if I showed you this house over here with the hedge – does that mean anything to you? And Teina says, obligingly, that’s the house we came to”.  It’s like it plays in slow motion. You just wish you could pause it and say ‘wait, Teina, don’t say anything’.

He looks so vulnerable. And it’s this moment that will change his life forever.

You’ve seen that footage over and over again now. It gets replayed on the news all the time and we’re glad we fought to broadcast it because it became the first of a series of crucial moments that started to get the public sitting up and paying attention to what had happened to Teina Pora.

The Family

And this is another. I spoke earlier of the lawyer who had let Teina Pora down. So too did members of his own family.

Here’s a shot from a clip from back in 2013, with his Aunt, Terry McLaughlin.

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[She admits to being paid for testimony]

I think this resonated because most people weren’t aware that witnesses were paid, and it immediately makes you ask whether their testimony could be relied upon. The Police, of course, make the distinction that witnesses are not paid to testify – they’re paid for the information they provide. But I think the public sees that as semantics.

Those stakeouts, by the way, are always a bit of a nightmare. Because you never really know whether or when you’re going to find the person you want, and you and the producer and the cameraman wait for hours and hours in a stinking hot car trying not to be noticed. Wondering when to pull the pin. Which, incidentally, we were just about to do when Aunty Terry arrived home.

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One of our camerawomen has a strategy which she calls “ten more units”. She reckons on a stakeout that’s not working, you wait ten more of whatever it is you’re measuring by. Seconds, minutes, hours – whatever. In this case we waited ten more minutes. And her theory worked.

We tracked down one of Teina’s cousins and covertly interviewed her, with the poor cameraman stuck filming from the car in the stinking heat again.

That cousin had testified at Teina’s second trial that she had seen Teina and Malcolm Rewa together, which supported the Crown case that the two knew each other, and that Rewa took Pora with him to commit the crime against Susan Burdett. When we started questioning that cousin she eventually admitted she had no idea what to think now about whether it had been Rewa she had seen with Teina. Yet her evidence was hugely significant to the Crown case. They even relied on it at the Privy Council – despite what she’d told us.

You might find this difficult to comprehend, but Teina has forgiven that aunty and that cousin. Incredibly, he seems to hold no grudge.

It hasn’t been all bad in Teina’s family though, by any stretch. One of his sisters, Lobelia, was able to shed doubt for us on a key piece of Crown evidence: that Teina had given her a pair of earrings taken from Susan Burdett’s home. Lobelia told us that was not true, that she’d never seen the earrings, that Teina had never given any earrings to her. She also said she’d told the police that, yet the evidence about the earrings was produced in court as a way of placing Teina at the scene of the crime. Even though she says she’d told the police it was wrong.

The Malcolm Rewa Connection

So you will have gathered that the Malcolm Rewa connection kept on coming up – which it would, of course. You couldn’t conduct an investigation into what had happened to Teina Pora without starting to ask questions about the Malcolm Rewa case. And once we started broadcsting our stories, many of Malcolm Rewa’s victims began to start asking those questions too.

As a result we’ve been in close contact for the past few years with five of the women Malcolm Rewa viciously attacked. Some who we sought out, some who sought us out. All of them wanted to cooperate with our investigation because they saw an injustice against Teina Pora and they wanted to be able to help, to lend their very powerful voices to the concerns.

They all had an intrinsic sense that Teina Pora couldn’t have been there when Malcolm Rewa raped Susan Burdett. They knew that because of their own experiences with him. Not least of all because of Rewa’s erectile dysfunction – which Teina’s jury at the retrial didn’t get to hear about. Incidentally we’ve heard from inside Paremoremo that Malcolm Rewa shuts himself in his cell for several days every time we broadcast a story.

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Malcolm Rewa’s first known victim, back on New Year’s Eve 1987 – told us, still tearfully all these years on – of how she was at a house in St Mary’s Bay in the days following her attack when she came down the stairs and recognised her attacker. There he was, Malcolm Rewa, sitting at the kitchen table. She told the police who he was, she even supplied them with his name.

It took six months for the Police to visit him, to ask about the attack, which he of course denied, saying he was on the booze that night with a mate. The police didn’t even follow up with that mate to verify the story.

The point being that if Police had properly investigated Malcolm Rewa from the outset – a named offender with a sex attack record – all those women who came after wouldn’t have been raped. Including Susan Burdett. And then the Teina Pora case would never have happened. I think this was another of those moments that resonated with the public because they wondered how and why that investigation could have been handled so badly from the outset. That victim complained to the Independent Police Conduct Authority and while I think their report was pretty deficient in many ways, at least it extracted an apology for that first victim, from the officer who failed to check out that alibi.

Obsession

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We were sometimes accused of being obsessed with this investigation. At times, that was probably a fair call. And Tim McKinnel can probably attest to how crazy we sometimes became. I thank him for listening to us rant.

But yes, obsession.

There was a relative of Malcolm Rewa’s who had come forward to us because he wanted to tell us that he believed Rewa was responsible for Susan Burdett’s death. We met him in a park and he told us that Rewa was evil, brutal, vicious, that he would hang his dogs up from the clothesline; that he was “a dog” himself, that Rewa would disappear for two or three days at a time and come back with lots of burgled items including jewellery. And that he should confess to the murder of Susan Burdett.

There’s another thing he told us which was a bombshell – and crucially supports Teina’s innocence.

We desperately wanted to get this relative on camera for an interview, but it was tricky. He was unsure about how his family would feel about him talking to us, so we could never ring him at home. So we developed a ritual. Instead we’d again spend hours upon hours sitting outside his house waiting for him to notice us. When he did, he’d take his dog for a walk so we could meet him up the road, away from his family.

On the side of a suburban street we’d be having these confidential conversations of huge importance, and encouraging him to speak publicly with us. We had so many of those encounters. We never did get him on camera. We do still hope to, because when we do, what he has to say is still important even though Teina is now a free man.

It’s important because we think Malcolm Rewa should be reprosecuted for the murder of Susan Burdett. Remember there have been two hung juries – there’s never been a not guilty verdict on that charge, so there’s no double jeopardy. The police have said there’s no new evidence, but nor have they looked for any. And when we finally get that relative on camera we’ll be able to show the Police that there is new evidence– and that Malcolm Rewa should absolutely be reprosecuted.

Because that’s the thing. While there has finally been justice for Teina Pora, there still hasn’t been for Susan Burdett.

During the course of this investigation we’ve also forged a strong relationship with Susan Burdett’s brother, Jim. He deserves justice for his sister too.

Though our stories have ostensibly been about Teina, we’ve never lost sight of the fact the person at the centre of it is really Susan. And so, on the wall between where Eugene and I sit there’s a photo of her to remind us why we’re doing this. It’s a simple head and shoulders shot, she’s smiling. It leaves you thinking about what she’d be like if only… and it also leaves us determined to keep going.

The scientists:

There was something else that we became a bit obsessed over, with good reason.

Early on in our investigation, we began to look closely at the crucial role played by the forensic scientists and the relationship between them and the police. The fact was that there was never, ever any forensic evidence linking Teina to the murder scene. Not even a suggestion of it.

No blood, no DNA: nothing. The most significant piece of forensic evidence – the DNA obtained from semen – had come from Malcolm Rewa.

So who knew what, when? When did they start linking the DNA from the murder scene to the other crimes carried out by Rewa?

The ESR was very generous in giving us access to the files. The problem was the state of those files.

ESR couldn’t – and still can’t – adequately explain things about the timings of the investigation and when links started to be made between the rape and murder of Susan Burdett and the other violent rapes Rewa was committing.

What we do know – and this is partly as a result of that affidavit I was talking about earlier – is that they started looking for those links before Teina was even arrested. But they didn’t disclose that to Teina’s defence. Back then DNA was a relatively new tool for the Police, but matches could be made within six weeks. That was happening in the investigation into the serial rapist Joseph Thompson. But in this case the Crown says those connections weren’t made until after – just after – Teina Pora’s conviction and sentencing.

Why is that? Why the delay? They’re questions which still need answering.

We did try though. After a year of asking for an interview we eventually got to sit down with Assistant Commissioner Malcolm Burgess. That interview – of which we also put the full nearly hour-long version on our website – became another pivotal point in terms of the public reaction to the Teina Pora case.

In it, Assistant Commissioner Burgess said repeatedly that two juries had convicted Teina Pora and there was no need to re-look at the file. We told him that six Police Officers had expressed to us their doubts over the safety of the Teina Pora conviction, and while he acknowledged that was a high number, he still didn’t think it justified taking another look at the file. I think that rankled with the public.

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Three days after that interview, in another story that was hugely instrumental in getting traction with people, Phil Taylor ran a story in the Weekend Herald quoting the police association president Greg O’Connor calling for an independent inquiry into the Teina Pora case saying there was significant disquiet amongst the Police.

I think people thought that if even Greg O’Connor had doubts about the safety of the convctions there really must be something to worry about.

Also by this stage there’d been the excellent Confessions of Prisoner T documentary made by Michael Bennett and broadcast on Maori Television. So between the three complementary media there was developing a bit of a groundswell of support for the Teina Pora case. 

The System

I want to make it clear though that our investigation was never in any way anti-Police. We wanted to expose an injustice, nothing more. A few years ago we went to see the now-retired Detective Inspector, Steve Rutherford, who headed the Burdett inquiry, to ask him what he thought about the new revelations in the Teina Pora case, about concerns being raised by other former Police Officers that the Police had got the wrong man.

He didn’t invite us in. He’d ignored letters we’d sent him. So when we turned up he told us politely, firmly, that the matter would be dealt with by the Courts. Ultimately, he was right, it has been. But it’s taken 22 years to get it right. It took way, way too long. And if it weren’t for the efforts of Tim McKinnel, the first person to really give a damn about Teina Pora, he would still be locked up today. The justice system failed him utterly and completely.

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Teina’s daughter gave birth to his grandson while he was inside. He’s now trying to reclaim the life he missed out on for all those years.

The end

This has been the hardest but most rewarding story I’ve done in 25 years of journalism and I know Eugene Bingham would say the same thing.

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In a few days’ time we’ll be sitting down to interview Teina Pora. I can’t wait. There are so many questions to ask him and there is a great deal that he wants to say. That’ll be on air for the launch of our new programme called 3D – on air Sundays 6.30 TV3. It’ll be worth a watch.

Just before I finish and this is especially for all the young journalists in the room, I saw something Donna Chisholm posted on Facebook the other day. She’s the journalist who helped exposed the miscarriage of justice against David Dougherty and whose work I hugely admire.

She wrote, “free to a good home.. a used newspaper motto that I’ve always loved, and lived by. I wish we still did. Ex Auckland star. And the motto goes:

For the cause that needs assistance

For the wrong that needs resistance

For the future in the distance

For the good that we can do.


Please click through to watch 3D’s final report into the Teina Pora case. It exists as a vital and poignant reminder: both of what journalism can do at its most powerful; and what we lost when we lost 3D.

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