Sunday, 19 April 2015


Accidents caused by cruise control and aquaplaning

Even some authorities have been fooled by false claims about cruise control and how the system can cause accidents on wet roads.

A highway sign in Montana, courtesy of Highway Hank Good
Poorly researched alarmist emails and news reports about the dangers of cruise control have left many motorists confused about the system. I have personally met many drivers who are afraid to use cruise control under any circumstances. Convincing them that using cruise control can actually reduce both fatigue on a long journey, and fuel consumption, is something of an uphill battle.

Cruise control, starting with its most primitive forms, has been around for almost as long as motor vehicles. The modern version, setting the road speed instead of the engine speed has been available on many cars for almost 50 years. In the last ten years even greater advances have been made with the technology.

But rumour persists that cruise control is dangerous. A typical circulating email tells of the car that starts to aquaplane on a wet road while on cruise control.

It was raining, though not excessively, when her car started to hydroplane and literally flew through the air. When she explained to the policeman what had happened, he told her something that every driver should know – NEVER DRIVE IN RAIN WITH YOUR CRUISE CONTROL ON.
He said that under those conditions the car would actually leave the ground and fly, attaining a higher speed than when it was on the road and was probably doing 10 to 15 km/h faster.

Perhaps that policeman missed his calling and should be advising aircraft designers and pilots on how to get the best performance from real flying machines.

Another persistent myth is that sometimes cruise control cannot be switch off. That one is totally without foundation. A quick check of the foot should tell the driver that the foot should be on the brake pedal rather than the accelerator.
Continued below . . . .

But the truth is that cruise control cannot cause an aquaplaning vehicle to fly or go faster. That proposition defies all the laws of motion, dynamics and aerodynamics. It is just impossible for it to happen while aquaplaning. However, basic cruise control systems do not control speed absolutely and host vehicles will decelerate or accelerate, while climbing or descending hills. It is also important for drivers to remember that cruise control cannot see ahead to corners or backed-up traffic. That is still up to the driver. A sound piece of advice here would be – NEVER DRIVE INTO A CORNER THAT YOU DON’T KNOW WITH YOUR CRUISE CONTROL ENGAGED.

Typically, an experienced driver will disengage the cruise control approaching a corner and engage it again as the vehicles straightens up again. It is not a major operation, and it is safer that way.

On all vehicles, disengaging the cruise control offers a choice. There is an ON/OFF switch, but for most situations that is not the preferred way. The brake pedal, or the clutch pedal on manual transmission vehicles, is usually the preferred means and a light touch of the foot will instantly disengage the system. On most vehicles it is not necessary to push the pedal down far enough to apply the brakes or to disengage the clutch. Just a light touch on the pedal is usually sufficient to put the vehicle into slowing mode. Braking can be applied after that as necessary.

Once safely around the corner the RESUME switch can be clicked and the vehicle will then accelerate again to its pre-set speed. If the ON/OFF switch is used, the driver will then have to select ON and re-set the chosen speed again.

The most modern cruise control systems are highly sophisticated, allowing the driver to select the degree of speed fluctuation for descending steep hills. For example if the driver selects +5 km/h, then the auxiliary braking system will take over at 5 km/h over the pre-set speed to stop the vehicle running away, and this may include changing automatically to lower gears. Automatic gear changes may also be possible while climbing with cruise control. Using cruise control with automatic gear changing guarantees gear changes timed for optimum efficiency, and the cruise control can do that better than the driver and save fuel, and wear and tear.

Finally, a driver who uses cruise control is less likely to inadvertently exceed speed limits and have fines to pay.

Happy cruising.

Saturday, 18 April 2015


From borrowed bicycle to commercial pilot

A sample read from The Scapegoat (previously published as Murder at Wairere) by Peter Blakeborough and now available as an Ebook from Smashwords.

Within a few days of the Napier earthquake the government appointed a two-man commission, a judge and an engineer, to oversee the rebuilding of the city. They started by ordering the construction of a temporary shopping center, which became known as Tin Town. Then they ordered the construction of new housing and later a permanent shopping center was constructed in the fashionable art-deco style. Laborers and tradesmen were needed and hundreds were employed from other parts of New Zealand.
As the summer drew to a close and the aftershocks diminished in frequency and magnitude more people moved indoors, but often into overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Clarrie moved in with older brother, Gordon, and wife, Phyllis. He worked long hours as a builder’s laborer, earning a good income.

One Sunday Clarrie borrowed Gordon’s bicycle, peddled to the Hastings airfield, met Tiny White and told him he wanted to learn to fly. When he told White about meeting Bolt and Knight the day before the crash, White gave him some advice.
‘Knight’s accident was a tragic lesson about low flying. When you start flying, never turn close to the ground at low speed. If you accidentally stall, you’ll hit the ground before you have a chance to recover.’
‘I’ll remember that, sir.’
‘Leave low flying to the experts, son.’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘When you think you’ve become an expert, think about what an expert is.’
‘If you separate the word into two parts, you get ‘ex’ and ‘spurt.’ Ex is an unknown quantity and a spurt is a drip under pressure. Do you want to be an expert?’
‘No, sir.’
White led the way to a silver de Havilland Moth biplane with two open cockpits. Clarrie had never seen an airplane close up before. It seemed a complicated structure of wood, wires, struts and a fabric covering. He peered into the small rear cockpit and his nostrils caught the distinctive smell of painted fabric. White explained how the controls worked, as he took him around the airplane, giving it a pre-flight inspection.
‘Well, are you ready to fly now, Clarrie?’
‘You bet!’
‘Let’s see if we can find some gear to fit you.’
White led the way to the small clubhouse with Clarrie following close behind like a faithful puppy. A few minutes later, feeling awkward in a huge leather jacket, flying helmet and goggles, he followed White back to the Moth. White showed him how to fasten the safety harness while a mechanic waited to swing the wooden propeller. Then Tiny White climbed into the front cockpit.
‘Throttle closed!’ the mechanic called from the front of the airplane.
‘Throttle closed!’ White repeated.
‘Throttle set!’ the mechanic called.
‘Throttle set!’
White flicked a switch on the side of the fuselage.
The author in a Boeing simulator
The mechanic pulled the propeller over the first compression and deftly stepped out of its reach as the engine kicked and rattled into life. It ran roughly for a few seconds, shaking the airframe, until White flicked the second magneto switch on. Then it settled down to a steady idle.
As they taxied to the end of the grass runway, White’s voice came through the voice tube connected to Clarrie’s helmet.
‘We always taxi zigzag, like this, so we can see where we’re going. We don’t want to run into another airplane, or a ditch, do we?’
‘No, sir,’ Clarrie shouted into the Gosport tube.
‘These things have a big blind area up front and they are nose heavy. They’ll go arse up, like a duck gone fishing, before you can say Jack Robinson. We don’t want that to happen, do we?’
‘No, sir.’
With a burst of power and a jab from his foot on the rudder bar, White turned the Moth into the wind. A moment later they accelerated across the grass with the tail rising and the rumble of the wheels gradually gave way to the roar of the slipstream passed the open cockpit. The wheels lifted clear of the grass and the transfer from earthly existence to natural airborne environment was complete. Clarrie felt instantly at home in his new surroundings. He was flying at last and it was wonderful.
He recognized landmarks he had seen from the ground. Most prominent was Te Mata Peak. Then he saw the sprawl of Hastings slipping beneath the lower wing. To the north Napier stood out near Ahuriri Hill and the wide curve of Hawkes Bay. White’s voice, muffled by the noise of the engine and slipstream, came through the voice tube.
‘Okay, Clarrie. Put your feet on the rudder bar, right hand on the stick and left hand on the throttle. Put your head out the left side and your eyes on the horizon straight ahead. You’ve got it.’
After a few minutes Clarrie was able to hold the airplane on a more or less straight and level course. A few minutes more and, with a bit of help from White, he was able to make some shaky turns.
‘You’ve got the idea, Clarrie. Some more practice will help.’
Clarrie practiced for another 30 minutes.
‘I’ve got it again,’ White said at last. ‘How’s your stomach?’
‘Okay,’ Clarrie replied, mystified by the question.
‘In that case, I’ll introduce you to some aerobatic flying so you can see if flying is really for you. Is your harness good and tight?’
‘Yes, sir.’
The nose of the Moth dipped toward the patchwork of paddocks below and the wind whistle increased to a scream. Clarrie watched the airspeed indicator needle race passed a hundred miles an hour. Then it settled for a moment at 120 miles per hour, more than three times faster than Clarrie had ever travelled before. A strange force pressed him down firmly in his seat. He seemed to weigh a ton as he felt the gravity pulling at his limbs. Even his cheeks and jaw seemed to sag under the pressure as the biplane curved upwards into an ever tightening loop. It arced over the top, curved down again with the mystery force still pressing him into the seat, as the paddocks filled his vision again.
‘How was that?’ White called through the Gosport tube.
‘Jesus! That was fantastic!’
‘Can you see Te Mata Peak? It’s about forty-five degrees to the left of the nose. Can you see it?’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘Okay. Keep your eyes on it. We’re going to do a barrel roll. It’s a combination of loop and roll and it will seem that we are rolling around Te Mata Peak. Here we go.’
Again the Moth dived to 120 miles per hour before pulling up almost vertically then starting to roll and turn through a full circle. Again the gravitational forces were strong enough to force Clarrie down in his seat throughout the maneuver.
‘Fantastic, Mr. White!’
‘Okay. Now a stall turn.’
White pulled the nose up until the Moth was climbing almost vertically on full throttle. He held the attitude until they seemed poised to slide backward. He gave it full rudder and closed the throttle. The Moth did a slow cartwheel, through 180 degrees and into a vertical dive, from which White raised the nose and brought it back to level flight.
‘The next maneuver is a bit more drastic than the others. It’s a slow roll. You’ll need to check your harness again. Make sure the pin is securely in place. If it’s not, there’ll be nothing to stop you falling out of the airplane.’
‘Looks okay, sir.’
White raised the nose just a little above the horizon and started what appeared to be a normal banking turn. Nothing unusual so far, Clarrie told himself. The bank continued until the wings went passed vertical and Clarrie was thrown against the side of the cockpit. The engine, starved of gravity-fed fuel, spluttered and died. He noticed the full top rudder that kept the nose from dropping as the roll continued. Then they were completely upside down and Clarrie dropped like a ton weight into the shoulder harness. The paddocks appeared at a bizarre angle. He had to push his arms upward to stop them flailing in the slipstream and likewise to stop his legs from being skinned under the instrument panel. It was a weird sensation. The Moth seemed to be still pointing slightly upwards, but the rush of air and the unwinding altimeter needle told him they were descending quite rapidly. For an instant Clarrie visualized his body splattered over some farmer’s pasture far below, or impaled on a fence post or church steeple. The roll continued with the stick hard over to one side of the cockpit and full top rudder to stop the machine from plunging into a terminal velocity dive. Finally, gravity and the visual world returned to normal, the engine coughed into life, and they were flying straight and level again.
‘How do you feel now?’ White asked.
‘Shit! Flabbergasted!’
‘That’s one of the difficult maneuvers. It can also be a dangerous maneuver. If it goes wrong close to the ground it will mean certain death.’
‘I’ll wait a long time before I try it.’
‘You certainly will, my boy,’ White said as the Moth climbed to regain lost altitude. ‘The next maneuver is easy to do. It’s so easy it can be done accidentally by any fool. If you let it happen close to the ground it will kill you. It’s a spin.’
White closed the throttle and eased the nose up high. The noise level dropped to a whisper and just when Clarrie thought they were about to slide backward, one wing dropped and the nose quickly dropped toward the low wing. The airplane shuddered and in the next instant it pointed almost straight down, rolling, turning and skidding all in one continuous tight, corkscrew motion. Clarrie looked at the altimeter needle. Two thousand feet, fifteen hundred, one thousand. The rotation stopped abruptly and the Moth plunged towards the paddocks at a steep angle. Once again the familiar gravitational force pushed Clarrie down in his seat as White pulled out of the dive and climbed for height again.
‘Not much wind down there today, Clarrie,’ White said as he looked down at the windsock from a steep turn. ‘Ideal for showing you what to do when the engine gives up the ghost.’
He pulled the throttle back to idle and started a wide turn around the airfield. The rush of air was easier on Clarrie’s face as they glided down, and it gradually got warmer. As they crossed the airfield boundary with height to spare, White pushed one wing down into a steep sideslip and the ground raced up to meet them. At the last moment he straightened the Moth up so that the wheels and tail-skid could make gentle contact with the grass runway. Fifty yards from the aircraft hanger he flicked the magneto switches off and allowed the momentum to carry the machine right to the hanger door.
‘You can put an hour in your new logbook, give me two pounds for the lesson, and a shilling for the logbook,’ White said as they stepped down from the wing. ‘Over the next thirty hours I’ll teach you each of those exercises, one at a time, until you’re competent enough to go on to the next stage. Then you’ll be tested for an A license. When you’ve got 150 hours you’ll be able to take another test for a B license which will entitle you to fly as a commercial pilot. Are you still interested?’
‘You bet!’
‘Good on you, lad.’
Clarrie peddled away from Hastings airfield with his head full of airplanes and aerobatics. He couldn’t wait for the day when he would the proud holder of B license. But first he had to get through to an A license and then gain the extra hours somehow. How could he do it? His wages were quite good, but only because he worked long hours and, when the town was rebuilt, the slump would set in again. An idea came to him.

Thursday, 16 April 2015


The next big thing in cars
A blog post from April 2012 revisited

   I’ve just been looking through some old emails and take a look at what I found . . .

   Tata Motors of India has scheduled the Air Car to hit Indian streets by August 2011. . .  Hold on, 2011, wasn’t that last year?

   According to the email the Air Car, developed by ex-Formula One engineer Guy N. For Luxembourg-based MDI, uses compressed air to push its engine's pistons and make the car go.
An MDI prototype air-car

   The Air Car, called the "Mini CAT" could cost around 365,757 rupees in India or $8,177 US.

   The Mini CAT which is a simple, light urban car, with a tubular chassis, a body of fiberglass that is glued not welded and powered by compressed air.  A Microprocessor is used to control all electrical functions of the car.  One tiny radio transmitter sends instructions to the lights, turn signals and every other electrical device on the car.  Which are not many.
   The temperature of the clean air expelled by the exhaust pipe is between 0-15 degrees below zero, which makes it suitable for use by the internal air conditioning system with no need for gases or loss of power. There are no keys, just an access card which can be read by the car from your pocket. 

   According to the designers, it costs less than 50 rupees per 100 KM, that's about a tenth the cost of a car running on gas. Its mileage is about double that of the most advanced electric car, a factor which makes it a perfect choice for city motorists.  The car has a top speed of 105 KM per hour or 60 mph and a range of around 300 km or 185 miles between refuels.  Refilling the car will take place at adapted gas stations with special air compressors...  A fill up will only take two to three minutes and costs approximately 100 rupees and the car will be ready to go another 300 kilometers. This car can also be filled at home with it's on board compressor...  It will take 3-4 hours to refill the tank but it can be done while you sleep. 

   Because there is no combustion engine, changing the 1 liter of vegetable oil is only necessary every 50,000 KM or 30,000 miles.  Due to its simplicity, there is very little maintenance to be done on this Car.
   The Air Car almost sounds too good to be true.  Well, we'll see in August.

Peter’s Piece






But there is more  . . . .

Tata Motors' Air Car - Airpod - Might Launch in 2015

By: Vikas Yogi | Updated: February 04, 2015 16:39 IST
I am not sure if you still remember that Tata was once working on cars that would run on compressed air. For those who did not know, the Indian auto giant had partnered with Motor Development International (MDI) - a French firm - to work on this project about 7 years ago. The company's silence on the project led us to believe that the project had been shelved. However, a latest report published in Business Standard claims that Tata's compressed air-powered car is in final stage of production, and might launch in the second half of 2015.
Though the car running on compressed air is not a new idea, it was always considered futile because it involved several issues, including low engine temperatures. Despite that, Tata Motors has been developing engines that will run on compressed air and throw out air from exhaust pipes.
"This is a long-term project and a tricky and challenging one. But these are areas we need to invest in to make sure that we can innovate and manufacture disruptive products in the future," said Timothy Leverton, President and Head, Advanced and Product Engineering, Tata Motors.
The agreement between the two companies has already covered two phases of activity; first, enclosing technology transfer and the proof of technical concept. Second involves completing the development of compressed air engine into specific vehicle and stationary applications.
The report further says that the debut of the air car aka Airpod is most likely to take place in the second half of 2015 through Zero Pollution Motors - a US franchisee. Its estimated time of arrival in India, however, is still unknown.
Just so you know, the air car will come equipped with a joystick instead of a steering wheel, and will be able to accommodate three adults and a baby. The car's tank can be filled at any compressed air station. The car will offer a range of 200 Kms and probably a top-speed of 80Km/h.
(Source: Business Standard)
Peter’s Footnote
The idea of compressed-air engines has been around for almost 200 years and have been tried in mining and railways operations and found wanting. Some early torpedoes were also air-powered.

Meanwhile the best hope for a successful air-powered car would be for Tata to concentrate on driver research and development. For example, the driver of an air-powered car could start his day with a hearty breakfast of green grass and onions. Tata could then market their revolutionary design as the Tata Flatulent, or just the plain Tata Farta.

Friday, 10 April 2015


The search for Australia’s fabled inland sea

A sample read from the Ebook Nathaniel's Bloodline by Peter Blakeborough

Andrew Asker’s problems with drinking and gambling got progressively worse. Most of the gamblers he played with were smarter than he was. Sometimes he would win money but mostly he lost it. Often his brain was so befuddled by cheap grog that it was no wonder that he lost.
Following a lucky break in a card game, he made a sudden but fortuitous decision. He would stop drinking, stop gambling and leave Bathurst for a fresh start in Sydney Town. Casually, he made an excuse to leave the game and, just as casually, gathered up his winnings.
‘Won’t be long, me mates. Just the usual call o’ nature,’ he told them as he stood up and stretched his tall lanky frame.
‘Ah, c’mon, mate. Another quick round afore yer go,’ Dan Martin challenged.
‘If I don’t go right away, mate, I’m gonna piss me self,’ Andrew retorted as he walked quickly away.
Nathaniel's Bloodline
A few minutes later he purchased some provisions from the trading center and walked to the Asker cottage on George Street, to tell them of his plans. At Povey’s house he collected his pay and started the long walk over the Blue Mountains.
It was early April as he traveled east, walking in the cool of early morning and late afternoon and finding shady trees that he could rest under during the hottest part of the day. At night he wrapped himself snugly inside his swag to keep out the bitter cold.
Descending from the Blue Mountains on the fifth day he met the colonial Surveyor-General, John Oxley, and a party of twelve men heading west.
‘From where have you come, lad?’ Oxley asked.
‘From Bathurst, sir,’ Andrew replied.
‘Please tell me about the new road.’
‘It’s much better than when I first crossed over.’
‘Excellent, young man. We are under instructions from His Excellency to trace the Lachlan River to the point where he believes it to flow into a vast inland sea somewhere west of Bathurst. He believes that we will discover new fertile lands that could be settled by the masses of land hungry graziers waiting to drive their cattle and sheep into the interior.’
‘My pa was an explorer. He crossed over with Mr Blaxland’s expedition. Then he came back and led the family across. I’d like to be an explorer.’
‘Are you headed for Sydney Town?’
‘Lookin’ fer work, sir.’
‘Look no further, Asker. Just this day one convict member of our expedition has absconded. The man was fresh from London and terrified of the bush. I would be obliged if you would take his place.’
‘Yer don’t ’ave to ask me twice, sir,’ Andrew replied eagerly.
‘Excellent, Asker. Welcome to the expedition.’
On a good day in the mountains they traveled five to ten miles a day. Later as they penetrated further inland they were able to cover fifteen to twenty miles a day. The walking day was usually broken into two parts and the men and animals rested in the shade of trees whenever possible during the hottest part of the day. After a midday meal some men read from the two expedition books. Others sang or recited poetry. Andrew Asker soon showed a natural flare for verse but reading came much slower.
Several days later the expedition established a base camp west of Bathurst before setting out in a south westerly direction carrying their supplies and a number of small boats on the pack horses. When they reached the Lachlan River near Gooloogong they split into two groups. One group led the horses along the riverbank while the other floated downstream in the boats crammed with supplies. For the next month they made slow progress until Oxley climbed a low mountain range to survey the countryside. Later he discussed his plans.
‘It is impossible to fancy a worse country,’ he said. ‘It is intersected by swamps and small lagoons in every direction. The soil is poor, hard clay covered with stunted useless timber. We shall press on until we find the land the Governor dreams of.’
‘It surely is a harsh and desolate land in the extreme around here,’ another man said.
‘Hard to imagine a worse hole,’ Sergeant Lawton Handley said.
‘But the Lachlan and its many branches and tributaries are most bountiful in providing excellent meals of cod and it is beautiful country near the waterways,’ Oxley countered.
The expedition deputy leader, George Evans spoke next.
‘The predicament is that if we choose to leave the river system we may run short of food. But if we follow the waterways the horses may become bogged in the marshes. We must decide which is best.’
Finally they decided to turn to the Southwest and onto a barren, featureless plain with only occasional muddy water holes. On the driest stretch they traveled for two days without seeing a drop of water, but then they came to a mountain range and found fresh spring water. Oxley surveyed the countryside from a hilltop and then changed direction again to the Northwest. Several days later they unexpectedly came back to the Lachlan River with its attendant lakes, marshes and complicated branches. On both sides barren land stretched away to the far horizons.
‘This land is quite unsuitable for agriculture,’ Oxley remarked with growing disappointment.
Away from the treachery of the waterways there were no signs of life; no animals, birds, insects, or aboriginals. Apart from the cod in the river the explorers seemed to be the only living creatures on the face of a hostile planet. During the day the sun beat down relentlessly and at night they were tormented by severe cold.
‘I am somewhat baffled by the flow of water away from the Pacific Ocean,’ Evans said. ‘I want to believe that all the rivers this side of the Great Dividing Range are flowing into the promised inland sea, the way the Nile flows into the Mediterranean, but where is the confounded sea?’
Andrew Asker listened quietly to the conversation as he slapped at the huge flies that plagued the expedition every minute of the day. Suddenly he became aware of a hateful glare from Lawton Handley.
‘If Asker knows this country like he claims, he should be able to lead us all to the great inland sea.’
Simultaneously Asker and several others shot quick glances at Handley. The remark seemed uncalled for. From the faded past Asker recalled that a Handley and his father had been enemies for some reason. He let the remark go unchallenged.
Continued below . . . .

After another week of traveling downstream they were puzzled by the decreased flow of water in the river.
‘Is the river drying up before our very eyes?’ Oxley asked in a frustrated tone. ‘Or have we left the main river again? There are so many waterways one simply does not know sometimes.’
‘If Macquarie’s inland sea is a reality, then it must surely be a grand oasis on a scale man has never before contemplated,’ Evans said as though still holding some hope of finding the fabled area.
With the river all but dried up and their rations running low, Oxley turned his party towards the base camp at Gooloogong by following the Lachlan upstream again. They were bitterly disappointed that they had failed to find the elusive inland sea and its attendant fertile pastures. Nevertheless he was confident that if he turned to the Northwest with fresh supplies and continued exploring along the Macquarie River he would be successful.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


The challenge for police: Bring the real Lundy murderer to justice

Christine Marie Lundy (38) and daughter Amber Grace Lundy (7) were murdered with an axe in the Lundy home in Palmerston North, New Zealand in August 2000. Christine’s husband Mark Edward Lundy (43) was in Wellington on a business trip at the time of the murders. Wellington is over two hour’s drive from Palmerston North. After a six month investigation with no apparent progress, Mark Lundy was arrested and charged with the murders.
Christine, Mark and Amber Lundy

To many people, including myself, it was a cut-and-dried case until the evidence started to unfold. I started having doubts when police put forward their scenario of a high-speed drive from Wellington to Palmerston North and back. Phone records established a three hour time frame. I then saw the Lundy case as possibly fitting the long-established list of police manipulated cases that have put a long list of innocent people behind bars.

Time and again, New Zealand police have proven that they can’t handle driving an investigation down a dead-end street. The police motto should be Never Turn Back, Never Back Down. Or perhaps they could settle for something a little more intimidating, like Might is Right.

As in the Thomas, Bain, Pora and countless other cases where police and juries got it wrong, the Lundy murders, the trial, the appeals and the retrial ordered by the Privy Council show that society, and juries in particular, have a lot to learn about the dangers of blind faith in police behaviour and tactics.

The ghosts of discredited former officers Bob Walton, Bruce Hutton and Len Johnston appear to be still influencing New Zealand policing and the way they sometimes use their own criminal tactics to turn a lightweight suspect into a sure bet for a gullible jury. The officers mentioned above, and no doubt others before and after them, created a police culture that sanctioned and encouraged police tampering with evidence and witnesses to the extent that many cases are conducted on the basis that the end justifies the means. Police culture, training and oversight needs to change dramatically, but that cannot change until police themselves admit to the problem.

Government also needs to recognise that the scales of justice are weighed heavily against defendants, in spite of all the rhetoric about how fair the system is and the frequently heard saying, ‘If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.’ If the system is fair, why are legal aid defence lawyers paid less than prosecutors? And why are accused persons, if presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, required to appear in court several times while their accusers appear only when the case is ready to proceed? Are these unnecessary appearances a form of advance punishment and an assumption of guilt?

Jurors who cannot approach their task with an open mind should be stood down, not just from a particular case, but from all jury service. They need to understand and accept the principle of Ei incumbit probation qui dicit non qui negat, the presumption of innocence. Under this principle the burden of proof is on he who accuses, and not on he who denies. It also means that an accused person remains innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Many jurors (and I know from having served on juries) have great difficulty with this principle. To them, right from the start, an accused person would not be before the court, unless the charge had some validity, because in their minds the police (and their witnesses) must always be believed and respected.
Mark Lundy during the first trial

Jurors also need to understand and accept the in dubio pro reo principle which dictates that when they are in any doubt they must find in favour of the defendant. It is not a balance of probabilities question.

The right of the prosecution and defence to challenge jurors should be changed. They should be compelled to take the jurors they are given by an independent jury selection panel, and they could be given appropriate training before being allocated to cases that they are likely to understand and where they won’t have a conflict of interest.

But enough of that. What happened in the Lundy case?

Countless times, the jury appears not to have picked up on glaring holes in the prosecution case. In the first trial police shot themselves in the foot with a preposterous accusation that Mark Lundy drove from Petone to Palmerston North, committed a double murder with an axe, disposed of all the evidence and drove back to Petone at a speed that would have called for an average speed of 120 kilometres an hour. To maintain that average he would have at times had to reach a speed of 180-200 kilometres an hour. But police had no evidence of a speeding car matching the time frame or description.

When, at the second trial, police changed their entire story about the timing of the murders and the drive, the jury should have seen them as shooting themselves in the other foot. In changing their story, they destroyed the credibility of every piece of evidence and every witness called at the first trial, and even their own credibility to conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation. They made a mockery of themselves in their perverted determination to convict an innocent man at any cost. The jury should have seen that, not as a reasonable doubt, but as a serious and major doubt of sufficient magnitude to warrant acquittal.

In their desperation, police once again trotted out their fall-back shock witness by calling a name-suppressed prison inmate with a secret, until now, confession from inside prison. A ‘he told me he did it’ extremely doubtful person, who was likely in prison for dishonesty. It is doubtful that even Ned Kelly would have the hide to call such a person to testify.

It was claimed by the prosecution that Lundy’s motive for the murders was to claim insurance so that he could settle business debts. The family’s insurance agent had recently recommended that they should increase their cover to $1 million each. They had agreed to increase their cover to just $500,000, but the increase had not been implemented at the time of the murders thereby ruling out insurance as a motive. The business debts amounted to a little less than $500,000, which is not an unusual amount for a business. The jury must have nodded off during a part of that evidence.

Much mileage was gained by the prosecution at both trials of Lundy’s acting the part of a grieving father and husband. But if Lundy was acting, he should have been working in Hollywood winning Oscars instead of selling kitchen fittings in New Zealand. How does anyone know how another person may react to the murder of one’s entire family unless they have had that same experience themselves? How do they know that there is an exact form of grief that everyone must follow, if they are to appear genuine? Well, some people actually think there is a standard form of grief. They will usually point to a newspaper photograph of an accused person and say, “Look. You can see that he’s guilty!”

Mark and Christine had been together for 17 years and most witnesses agreed that they and Amber were a happy and affectionate family. The insurance motive, which should have fallen flat, was the best motive that police could find.

During the course of the evening phone records later showed that Mark was on his mobile phone three times in Petone. First he took a call from Christine and Amber. He then called a business associate and three hours later, feeling lonely and having consumed a large amount of alcohol, he called for service from a prostitute. Police claimed that the last two calls were made to establish an alibi. But that is a flimsy proposition. Mark Lundy was not a stupid man and even while intoxicated he would have known that prostitutes don’t make credible witnesses. He would have also known, if he knew he would likely be going to court, that using a prostitute would not help his chances with a jury.
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The discrediting of expert prosecution witnesses cast further doubt on the police version of events, but once again the jury chose to stick with the police version. Little did the jury seem to realise that both police versions could not be right. But when the first jury agreed with the police version and convicted, they made the later second police version implausible. 

Likewise, the second jury made the first police version implausible, and therefore both versions have now been rejected entirely. But juries will be juries, and the question must now be asked; did the jury decide to support the police, no matter what?

Moving the second trial two hours south to Wellington did nothing to create an environment where prospective jurors would have no prior knowledge of the murders and the outcome of the first trial. Everyone in New Zealand with the nous to sit on a jury would have been well acquainted with the case and thereby most unlikely to change their long-held opinion on what the outcome should have been. Second trials of such high profile cases, in a small country like New Zealand, should be held in another country.

It is also unfortunate that people like Geoff Levick, a retired businessman, and other Lundy supporters have been frustrated in their attempts to set the record straight. Levick has estimated that he has spent $100,000 of his own money and put in some 10,000 hours into researching the case. He didn’t have any special interest in the case until he read of the police’s claim that Lundy had made the alleged drive from Wellington to Palmerston North and back within an impossible time frame. People like Levick are worth their weight in gold to society.

Over the years, starting with the Arthur Thomas case in the 1970’s, there has been a litany of wrongly convicted people and their supporters fighting for justice, sometimes winning, sometimes still fighting. Gradually, the New Zealand public is becoming aware that all is not as it seems in the criminal justice system. Perhaps the time has come for all of these support committees to join together and fight for a common cause with an organisation that will act as a public watchdog to prevent similar injustices in the future.

Meanwhile, as it stands now, Mark Lundy, a man with no previous record of offending, has been convicted twice of murder, the circumstances of each case was in conflict with the other case. He has been sentenced to complete the remainder of the 20 year sentence imposed earlier and must serve another eight years. But this should not be the end of the Lundy case.

Mark Lundy deserves a fair trial before a fair jury, and Christine and Amber are also yet to receive the justice they deserve, but it is doubtful that the police can face up to that responsibility.