Sad legacy of gang's execution
Lyn Humphreys talks to a Taranaki family working hard to keep a son's killers in jail and the police officers who remember his brave stand against gang violence.
Eighteen years after a shotgun blast shattered a man's brave stand against gangs, his family are still paying a heavy price.
Christopher Crean's killers are behind bars but his own family remain imprisoned as well, victims of suicide, mental illness and estrangement.
In a house in Opunake, Christopher's parents, Mike and Liz, survey the collateral damage of their son's bittersweet legacy.
They sit in the lounge; a big shiny crucifix on the wall is surrounded by three photos of fine-looking young men: two sons and a grandson.
To the right is the instantly recognisable photo of police witness Christopher, who was executed by Black Power members as he answered a knock at his door on October 6, 1996.
Christopher was set to testify against the gang and they wanted him silenced, even if it meant killing other members of the family to do so.
The two other photos are of Christopher's older brother, Jeremy, and his oldest son, Thomas. Both committed suicide within months of each other. Thomas was just 17 years old.
And the pain didn't end there.
Within months of the slaying, the family was torn apart. Chris's wife, Tania, remarried and moved away. It was an acrimonious parting and the family remains estranged. She has since moved back to New Plymouth but did not wish to be part of this feature.
Mike and Liz have lost contact with many family members, including their granddaughter, Stephanie, whose presence in Chris's arms thwarted an earlier execution attempt.
"Chrissy carried her everywhere. He was never without her," Liz says.
She points the finger at the murderers and the sad, ongoing legacy of their tragic deed almost 20 years ago.
"Jeremy took his life. Not long after, Thomas took his life," she says.
Neither young men had dealt with their grief.
"It was too quick for Jeremy to return to work. I kept going over to Australia to see him. He was a bit of a worry."
And when he was arrested for an alleged assault, he hanged himself in police cells.
It was younger brother Robert who offered to go to Australia and bring Jeremy's body home.
"I said yes," Liz recalls, "bring him home, Robert. He was only 25 but he's emotionally very strong."
Maybe Robert inherited that strength from his parents. Such tragedies can destroy relationships but Liz and Mike will celebrate 47 years of marriage in 2014.
Mike says it's their Christian faith that has kept them moving on through so much adversity.
"Liz believes in that fella up there," he says, pointing skyward. "I do too. That keeps us going. A lot of people wouldn't be together after going through what we have."
But it appears the couple are drawn closely together by another driving passion: to keep Christopher's murderers behind bars. Possibly for the rest of their lives.
"I'll continue to fight for Chrissy until I die," Liz says.
The four killers - Brownie Mane, now 42, Robert Shane Maru, 43, Symon George Manihera, 43, and Dennis Luke, 55, were sentenced to the mandatory life sentence and are all now entitled to apply for parole.
Mane and Maru received 17 years non- parole - the longest stretch in New Zealand at that time.
And when 64-year-old Liz isn't working at the Silver Fern freezing works in Hawera and retired Mike, 67, isn't busy as a caretaker at the kohanga and kura kaupapa up the road, both are badgering the Parole Board to continue that stretch.
Three of the four killers have been up before the board recently, and none has been successful.
Luke, a double-murderer, is categorised as the highest risk.
This is despite him now being housed in an inner self-care unit, working with a marae gang and undergoing extensive psychological treatment.
"The psychologist's recommendation is that, given Mr Luke's high risk and long period of imprisonment, there should be extended testing of his commitments to a pro-social lifestyle and of his capacity to implement skills that he may have learned in prison," the board said last November.
Mane, involved in the attack that Christopher witnessed on a Mongrel Mob member, as was Maru, had the most to benefit in ordering the shooting of the police witness.
They too have been denied release.
And they'll stay in prison a lot longer, if Liz and Mike have their way.
He recalls grabbing one of Liz's crutches almost 20 years ago, holding it like a rifle and aiming it at the convicted men as they were taken away after being convicted of their son's murder.
That anger has remained intact over so many years.
They have refused all attempts to sit down in restorative justice meetings with the convicted men.
"I know they'll be out one day. But as long as I'm alive I'll fight their release," Mike says. "They can rot in hell. They can stay there as far as I'm concerned. A life for a life."
Don Allan is looking forward.
Next month he will begin a new role at Samoa's High Commission in Apia as New Zealand police liaison officer for the southwest Pacific.
But memories of a night close to 20 years ago are never far away and drag him from thoughts of warm, sunny Pacific isles to the dark, murky underworld of Taranaki gang culture.
And the brave young man who stood up to it.
Mr Allan was just eight months into a new posting as the head of New Plymouth's CIB when a shotgun blast shattered the front door of Christopher Crean's home and killed the police witness.
The investigation and prosecution of his executioners would become the highlight of his career and a watershed case for both New Plymouth and justice country-wide.
"As an outsider I could see that the gang had taken over parts of New Plymouth," Mr Allan recalls. "The police had taken their foot off their throats and they were flourishing."
One man was prepared to stand against that violent tide. As a Crown witness, Chris Crean - a born-again Christian - was prepared to name names after witnessing a Black Power-Mongrel Mob attack in his neighbourhood on March 13, 1996.
"Christopher Crean was a true catalyst to the community saying 'we don't need this in our city'."
He came forward at a time when the Marfell community was being terrorised by the gang.
"Looking back that really defined public confidence in the police at a time New Plymouth could have been taken over by criminals. He decided to come out on the side of law and order.
"It shows what can be done when the community says enough is enough."
As a direct result of Christopher's murder, the New Plymouth community demonstrated a united front against the gang and it was this stance that in turn galvanised the police, he says.
But justice took its time.
To ensure that witnesses in the impending Crean murder trial were fully protected, the Evidence Act was amended to allow anonymous witnesses to give testimony through video link to the court and from undisclosed venues.
"It took a year to get the law changed," Mr Allan recalls.
Ironically, Chris Crean had rejected the offer of police protection, the consequences of which still haunt officers 18 years later.
The Crown witness was well aware the gang was out to get him but refused help, believing that his Bible and beliefs would keep him safe.
Detective Mike Thorne, the police officer in charge of investigating the Black Power attack on the Mongrel Mob which Christopher witnessed, still carries a heavy burden for their failure to protect him.
"We heard there was a possibility that pending the Black Power trial something might happen, but Chris was adamant that he didn't want to move," Mr Thorne says.
"It still guts me. It will probably haunt me for the rest of my life that we couldn't keep him safe and move him and his family away from the area he was living.
"They didn't intimidate him and it was gutsy on his part but, unfortunately, it wasn't to be.
"I reckon he had a ton of guts to do what he did."
Mr Allan believes that in all, four attempts were made to kill him.
But, by the end of the court process, it would be the gang that would be ravaged. Christopher Crean's lasting legacy: three- quarters of the gang members were charged, convicted or had turned against their own.
That included Black Power president Tama (Arthur) Garlick who, incensed with his gang members after finding out Brownie Mane had also ordered the killing of Christopher's baby girl, came across to the Crown, Mr Allan says.
"It turned his stomach that, when they came back and Mane asked why they hadn't carried out his orders and they told him he had the baby in his arms, that Mane said to them, 'I don't give a f... - shoot them both'."
He says Christopher's sacrifice took out Hawera Black Power president Dennis Luke, three New Plymouth gang members, and the three who gave the Crown evidence.
"They never recovered from that.
"It was the first time in New Zealand four people were convicted of the murder of one person. And at the time it stood as the longest time anyone was given a non-parole period."
Months later, Christopher Crean's widow, Tania, was asked to the police station for a ceremony to receive his post-humous bravery award.
And police bosses also acknowledged their own who went beyond the call of duty. Four officers in the large team involved in the homicide investigation - Mr Allan, Debbie Gower, Mike Hannah and Dave Mackenzie - received commendations.
Taranaki Daily News