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  • NZ Police Commissioner Mike Bush- "character witness"

    When Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Bush delivered a eulogy at the funeral of former Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton last April, in which he described the disgraced Hutton as having “integrity beyond reproach”, some people concluded Bush had written off his chances of taking the top police job. They were wrong. On April 3, Bush took over as Commissioner of Police.

    With Bush’s promotion, his words invite critical re-examination. And the inescapable conclusion is that at the very least, he was guilty of a spectacular error of judgment – and that’s being charitable. A harsher verdict is that he displayed an attitude and mindset that should have immediately disqualified him from any consideration for the position of commissioner. At the very worst, the eulogy could be interpreted as signalling to Bush’s subordinates that it’s okay to secure a conviction by planting evidence.

    To be fair, the glowing description of Hutton was not Bush’s own. A chief inspector placed the comment on Hutton’s file in 1967, 13 years before a royal commission found that he had planted the .22 cartridge case which led to the wrongful conviction of Arthur Allan Thomas for murder. Bush, in fact, never worked with Hutton.

    But we now know that whatever Hutton’s superior officers thought in 1967, he was not a man of “integrity beyond reproach”. Neither was he a “man of great character” – to use Bush’s own words – who didn’t deserve the accusations levelled against him.
    Even if Bush was simply trying to console Hutton’s grieving family by saying kind things about him, as his predecessor Peter Marshall has implied, it was more than wrong-headed. It showed a worrying disregard for the historical record. But more alarmingly than that, it pointed to the possibility of a serious malfunction in his moral compass.

    The official record is clear and emphatic: Hutton was a crooked cop. The man Bush eulogised was identified by the 1980 royal commission as having perpetrated an “unspeakable outrage” that put an innocent man in prison for nine years.
    That the reputation of the police will now rest in the hands of someone who apparently thinks Hutton was unfairly maligned is hardly encouraging. Bush now says that, in hindsight, the eulogy was “probably inappropriate” – a half-hearted admission of fault, at best. If he had offended anyone, he said, he apologised.

    Sorry, not good enough. The Claytons apology he offered is worthless. He hasn’t said he was wrong, merely that he was sorry if he upset people. In any case, he cannot erase his description of Hutton as a man of great character. That he said this at a private funeral, perhaps not anticipating that it would leak into the public domain, changes nothing. The thought was there. And if he thought it then, he presumably still thinks it now.

    The obvious meaning to be taken from his eulogy is that he believes the system got it wrong where Hutton was concerned. That suggests that when outside scrutiny results in a finding the police don’t like, they can simply decide privately to reject it. This adds weight to the perception that the police remain a tribal institution, resentful of critical attention and quick to close ranks against interfering busybodies who don’t understand policing. Bush’s appointment as commissioner makes it seem highly unlikely that those ingrained attitudes will be challenged anytime soon.

    Which brings us to the role of the Government, which made the inexplicable error of deciding he was a suitable appointee. Asked whether it was proper to give the top job to an officer who had praised a man who brought shame on the force, Police Minister Anne Tolley lamely replied that she thought Bush now regretted the eulogy. Deploying a singularly fatuous cliché, she said it was a “line call” on his part, as if it were of no greater consequence than a disputed umpire’s ruling in a tennis match. It was far more than that, and if Tolley doesn't grasp that then she shouldn't be minister.

    Bush is reportedly popular with rank-and-file police and liked by many politicians. In her statement announcing his appointment, Tolley said she believed he would be an “outstanding” commissioner. If only the public could share her confidence.

    Credit: NZ Listener Editorial
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. flimflam's Avatar
      flimflam -
      It seems likely that he has been promoted because of his attitude towards Hutton
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