David Bain's Perth speech: full transcript

FINALLY FREE: David Bain told a Perth conference that prison damaged him.
Bohdan Warchomij
FINALLY FREE: David Bain told a Perth conference that prison damaged him.

David Bain's address to the International Justice Conference in Perth on March 10.

Good morning - I'm so nervous I should have gone to the toilet. Good morning ladies and gentlemen, distinguished exonerees, members of the system. My name is David Bain and I want to tell you a little story that spans 15 years.

On Monday June 20, 1994, at 5.30am my night's sleep was broken by my alarm. A few minutes later I got out of bed, dressed and ran out the door to do my paper run. An hour or so later I returned home and any sense of peace in my life was forever taken away when I found my mother dead in bed, blood streaming down her face.

Then as I stumbled around my home in vain trying to help or to find out what had happened. One by one I found the rest of my family.

First night of 4613

Friday evening, June 24, 6.30pm I was handed a tray with cold fish and chips, and introduced to my cell. Then the door locked on my first day of 4613 days locked up for something I did not do.

Mum and Dad married in 1970. I was a born in 1972. Then a year later the opportunity came to go to PNG as missionaries. So Mum and Dad jumped at the chance. Not only did he (Robin Bain) run religious education but he was a lecturer at the teachers college and eventually pioneered many opportunities for locals to establish schools and churches in some of the most remote areas of the interior. Each of us kids developed strong interests in the outdoors as he taught us how to abseil, to read maps, to scuba dive, to sail, to read the bush and look after everyone in your family. Life in Papua New Guinea was a child's ideal.

We grew up in a pacific paradise. We were running around all day in nothing but a pair of shorts and sunscreen. Our weekends were filled with visits to the local river or beach, sailing and swimming... there were picnics, church events. It was just one big playground.

My father was the deputy principal of the Port Moresby Teachers College. He had a strong and stoic character, was a perfect leader and widely respected. The old man was a hugely capable man with a variety of arts, as he acted and he was a very good singer. He loved all kinds of physical pursuits and he took great pride in his family. Dad loved making toys for us kids and helped us with our school work, building tree houses and taking us out for new experiences. I remember Dad in a confrontation in PNG. He shepherded me behind him and continued talking to the guy until it was resolved. He was a man who could handle any situation and I had implicit trust in him.

I will always remember the examples he set and forever be grateful for his help in becoming the man I am today.

Bain's mother Margaret

My mother Margaret. Mum had more artistic interests and with some effort was able to get involved in music, theatre and pottery while also keeping us four kids in line. When we came back in 1988, I was 16, suffered from acne and had just recovered from a bad dose of malaria so was a terribly skinny six foot two and was trying to find a place for myself among some very judgemental 16-year-old peers.

It was during this time that Mum and I became very good friends. She was wise enough to realise she could not remain Mum in our eyes forever and that she would have to find a way to maintain her relationship with a group of developing teenagers. This combined with our need to sort out all confusing issues of life as a teenager. If we had any problems or emotional issues we were all comfortable to sit and talk with her about it. I had come to trust her and see her as my friend and confidante.

Sister Arawa

My sister Arawa. Arawa had steel in her spirit. She knew from quite early on what she wanted to be and that was to be a teacher. So she worked hard towards that goal and determination was such a positive part of her character. She was known for her compassion, her friendliness, her approachability and she was quite beautiful.

As we settled into New Zealand life she quickly found her feet and found fitting into NZ culture quite easy, eventually becoming the head girl at our high school. Arawa and I became the best of friends as we grew older and developed a certain respect for each other while dealing with our tertiary studies. She was 19 and in her second year of Teachers College.

Sister Laniet

My little sister Laniet had a quiet and often reserved character. She would sit for hour hours painting or playing her little girl games. Despite those differences Laniet and I got on quite well. Even now I know I would be very protective of her. She was just one of those people who naturally related to you and was softly engaging in a way that inspired quite compassionate connection. In later years she developed into the rebellious teenager she was later known for and her life seemed to derail from the so-called correct path and I did my best to stay in touch and when she had problems or moved flats always answered her call to help. Unfortunately it was to me she sought help in the days leading up to the 20th of June. It was one of the most painful aspects of the tragedy that I only learned of this through a friend after everything became my nightmare.

Due to my attention being focused on my own life and all the fantastic things I was getting involved in I was unaware of the malevolent undercurrents that were happening in my own family. I often wish I could have done something. If I had only seen her on that day when she sought my help this could have been the one thing that might have changed the outcome.

Brother Stephen

My little brother. Stephen had a different approach to life as he was the youngest and in my view spoiled rotten.

He was less responsible and had more of a carefree attitude seeming to think things would just take care of themselves while I had always had a sense of responsibility for my younger siblings. Stephen revelled in the chance to get out and play with his friends. We were athletic guys and close brothers so we always had time to go to the movies, to play tennis or go out bush with Dad. He also seemed to look up to me a little and would often come asking to play with my stuff. He was cheeky, curious energetic wily and a real charmer and extremely popular with all his friends and anyone who engaged his interest. My little brother was only 14.

Return to New Zealand

In 1988 our last year in PNG, crime was on the rise and it had become quite concerning for Mum and Dad who had four young kids and as time moved on the distance between the life we were living and that of our NZ cousins grew so we left with many regrets ...to life in New Zealand.

When we got here we all found it quite difficult to settle in and struggled emotionally through the first few months- climate, culture, social standing- and so on. We had left our friends behind and all the usual had to be made anew. It was at this time the cracks in our wonderful peaceful upbringing began to show.

The arguments between my parents had become more frequent as Dad found it quite difficult to get a teachers job that matched his qualifications.

And Mum realised NZ had pretty much left her behind. Dad ended up getting a position teaching in a country school that took 45 minutes to drive to and was far from the position he felt he should be in. All this internal strife eventually led to Dad living in a caravan at the back of our property and Mum seemed to descend into her own world of spirituality and special meaning. For the six years we lived in Dunedin Mum and Dad were essentially separated for the last four of them.

Bain's life was blossoming

During all this Arawa, Laniet, Stephen and I tried to get on with school, establishing friendships, all with varying degrees of success as I described. Arawa focused on teachers college, Laniet became more estranged from the household and the family. Stephen had a few issues but he was still a cool kid. As for me being a naive and wrapped up in my own newfound life I didn't really notice or pay much heed to what was happening around me.

Life had only just started. I had taken part in triathlons, joined the local harriers club, passed through outward bound. I sang in the Royal Dunedin Male choir and became involved with a group of young and enthusiastic amateur performers and started a degree in music and drama at university and formed three lovely (inaudible). To most of my friends I was just another normal slightly over active young guy. So that is my family. This is now where they rest. A nice quiet place on the outskirts of Dunedin. (photograph of grave shown).

Painful memories

A big question. I have never spoken of what happened on the morning of the 20th in any public way other than when I gave evidence at the trial. I was on the stand for a whole day. First giving my story as my lawyer asked his questions and then being cross examined by the prosecutor. It has always been far too painful, even when recounting my memories with my lawyers and counsellors they have been filled with pain. So I hope you will understand if I am a little hesitant in retelling these painful events.

On Sunday night, the 19th of June we all sat up to watch a movie that had been loaned to me by my girlfriend and we ate fish and chips for tea. About 8.30 another programme started that others wanted to watch so I decided to get off to bed. The only unusual aspect of the night was that Laniet was staying for the weekend as she had been living away from home for some time now. During the night I was roused, loud voices coming from the other end of the house and I think I heard Mum get up and head away in the car but it was just another argument. The next morning I went on my paper round. When I came back to the house afterwards I noticed Mum's light was on so I thought I will bring her a cup of tea. I went downstairs to the bathroom to wash the newspaper ink off my hands and did a load of washing as I was the first up.

When I walked back to my room and turned on the light I saw on the floor an open packet of bullets and the key lock to my rifle.

That's when the nightmare started. Unable to make sense of what I found and thinking she was awake I ran into her bedroom to find out what was going on. I pushed back the curtain. Mum Mum what's going on? She was in bed and reclined back on several pillows but there was blood streaming down her face. Up to this moment my memory is perfectly clear but from then on it is completely clouded by the shock I got. Seeing my mother like that. I didn't know if it was due to that moment or that I might have fainted or blacked out. I do have marginal recall of then going from room to room trying to help or to find out what was going on, calling to my family as I went. I found my brother Steven curled on the floor in his room. I saw Laniet in bed and Arawa also on the floor of her room. Twisted into an unnatural position. I then remember finding Dad on the floor of our lounge and my impression of black hands taking away my family came at that time.

Memories 'totally confused'

Of course I was in total disarray now and after finding that Dad could not help it finally dawned on me to dial the emergency number.

Standing here today my actual memories of that morning are totally confused. From the moment I found my family, the trauma of it all the time that had elapsed, all the evidence I have been listening to, the TV programmes, the police reconstructions and either of the trials might have caused this. However I will try and fill in the gaps a little for you in order to show what it was I experienced to have the effect of filling me with the intense feeling of fear and confusion. At the time all I wanted to do was find my father because he would help me to fix it.

As I now know my whole family had been killed by shots to the head. The horror was three fold. First all had been killed in various stages of wakefulness. (He then goes through the shots)

I called the emergency operator to explain the situation as best I could and I was very fortunate to have an operator to stay on the line and tried to help me. When the police finally got there about 25 minutes later I think I had already started blocking out what had happened because when they talked to each other that they had found five bodies I panicked again and I think I fainted.

The rest of that morning until I was removed from the house is much of a blur to me. I couldn't focus my attention on anything. I was cold, numb my mind had pretty much shut down, there were random thoughts of "got to go to university. I need to get that essay done. I've got a class to study for. Oh shit got to get the washing out." I couldn't think what had happened to me or why all these strangers were in the house.

Eventually I was taken to the CIB offices and a couple of detective began my first interview. Despite everything I had been through I still didn't really understand what had happened.

It was sometime into the interview that they told me. I guess because I was still in shock through that I was calmer I had time to relax ... at that point I was able to retain it ... despite the news at that moment cutting me totally to the core.

'You are now a criminal'

Later I had to go through a full medical strip search. Probed every part of my body. It was a humiliating experience but as they explained at the time it was necessary to eliminate me as a possible suspect. Yeah.

I had three more interviews with detectives and even had them come to help me to cope with the unimaginable reality that I was trying to go through. It was during one of these visits from a detective who looked after me that he put to me two possibilities. Either it was your father or it was you. The confusion that brought about when I was already in a fragile state of mind was almost too much to bear. Not too mention having to cope with all the distraught rellies, priests and grief counsellors. Until the Friday I was asked to go back to CIB offices for one more interview.

From the time I entered that room I knew things were not right and ten seconds later the cop was on me. He leaned over the desk in a bad rendition of any cop show putting the hard word on me. He pressured me to fess up telling me. I should be ashamed of myself. Throwing damning evidence at me and saying so. How do you explain that if you didn't do it? Through it all- you will think I was a damned fool- I kept trying to explain to show where they had got it wrong. That they were making a big mistake and until I saw it was making no difference I asked for a lawyer.

The detective response and I shall remember it forever was, "Congratulations David. You are now a criminal." A few hours later I was arrested fingerprinted and found myself on remand in a ten by eight cell in one of the coldest buildings in Dunedin. Even though it was only 10 ft above the ground it let in barely any light. There was a mattress on the floor, a bucket in the corner, two blankets and a steel reinforced door slammed on a daily basis behind me. After all I had been through in the week I had had trying to reconcile myself to what had happened; all I could do was cry myself to sleep.

Unable to go to family's funeral

The following morning after a very restless night I tried desperately to get somebody to let me go to my family's funeral but between the insistence of the police and my relatives' reluctance I was not allowed to attend. Another shattering blow to this day I feel the pain of being denied the basic right of saying goodbye to my family.

The first trial was an extremely stressful time as you can probably imagine and it is a period of my life that I truly wish I could blank out. Even now the horror of going through that experience haunts me and makes daily life tough. I was told by my lawyer at the time that he had everything under control and he assured me that we had a good defence. Despite these assurances I felt continually under attack throughout the entire process and having to go from my cell to the courtroom every day and back just sapped the strength out of me. There was never any chance of proving myself innocent when all that was presented portrayed me as some depraved loony. It was a continual and unbalanced fight.

They systematically destroyed my reputation and the old relationships I had and relations with my extended family. For the rest my life they painted me with the stigma of these harrowing events.

I went into this trial believing everything would be explained. It was just some horrible mistake. I would be exonerated and then be able to salvage something of my life. I even went onto the stand believing I would have the chance to set things straight. Telling the truth would set me free. For those of you not used to giving evidence or leading it, this is not what the witness box is for. Instead all I said seemed to fall on deaf ears.

I was either treated like a liar or twisted to suit the story that they wanted to hear depending of course on the version of the story that was (inaudible) at the time. The trial opened with one ... three or four presented during it and two during the closing.

None had any semblance of any of the memories I had. In my view the system has failed me. I believed it was there to protect me and it would make things right. It didn't. It betrayed me. Taking a person's innocence is the next highest crime and this is done with unconscionable and unchallenged regularity by the system we have put in place.

It has been given the power to take but this has become a creature without compassion and that will not and cannot restore even a measure of what has been stolen.

Becoming prisoner 18495923

In May 1995, not only had I lost my family, all I owned, all I had known of life in New Zealand but I had been charged and convicted of the worst crime possible. NZ's system had decided I was guilty of taking the lives of all those I loved. I became prisoner number 18495923, Just another statistic in a faceless system. At this point I have to admit my memories of the trial are very foggy. I don't remember hearing one guilty verdict even though they pronounced five. And after that apparently I collapsed and I was carried out of court. I felt as though the whole world had imploded with that first guilty verdict and I never entertained the thought I would be convicted of this horror.

My initial state ranged all over from bouts of hysteria and panic to being overwhelmed by the entangled mess that was far too awful to unravel- through depression and extreme periods of loss and loneliness to an almost zombie-like state. It affected my appetite and sleep patterns such as they were and eventually I was diagnosed as being clinically depressed. From this time on, my emotional, physical and mental health went all over the show as year after year, first my lawyer and then subsequent teams of lawyers and friends battled against the system.

Taking one appeal after another to the courts and continuing to dog the system I knew had got it wrong.

I have told several people over the years that I visualised my emotional and mental state as a jigsaw painstakingly putting it together very slowly. Rebuilt it, then it crashed down smashed to bits. The only reason I was able to carry on each time was because I was undergoing regular psychological counselling and I had many friends who were more than willing to help pick me up. When I was relatively stable again I began working on the jigsaw, putting it back together and knowing there was going to be another crash.

This ability to focus on my internal thoughts and continual efforts to maintain some form of composure was only possible by efforts on the outside to get justice for me.

Damaging changes in personality

My life in jail - You all have an idea, an impression of what life is like in prison. You've watched movies, dramas, read about it, might have studied it. But of course no matter how thorough the academic study is it cannot comprehend the impact on an individual unless one has experienced the event. To compound this, time is also a factor that has extreme influence over the overall effect of the prison experience.

Each of us here that have spent any time inside has a different experience but many aspects are quite common. The outcomes are also quite similar. There are deep reaching and damaging changes in personality, emotion, psychology.

But my personal experience over 13 years of being locked in my cell, from day one in fact, is something that speaks even today. It was a search and drive to find peace, peace of mind, peace of spirit, peace in my body, almost an impossible thing when considered from the outside and also in hindsight when I look at it all now I shudder at the prospect of having to go through all that again.

I guess that is one lesson of being quite naive at the time. For the first 12 months I spent on remand, I was confined to my cell 22 hours a day and checked on every 15 minutes for 12 months - every single 15 minutes - they turned the light on because they thought I was a risk to myself.

From that I walked into the hardest wing at Paparua Prison in Christchurch City. At exactly the same time 80 other guys were coming in from the yards.

"There were members of Mongrel Mob, Black Power, Skinheads and several other gangs they invaded that space with all their bolshie walks and tattoos exposed smoking cigarettes and being tough. It was one of the scariest moments in my life and I knew if I let it show they would just eat me alive."

After a couple of visits from some of the gang reps, I realised I would not survive without making some alliances. There were several other lifers who had no gang affiliations. Between us we developed a little informal group and watched out for each other.

The friendships that developed lasted through the years and some of the guys are still good friends of mine. Through it all I was only trying to ensure I would survive until the latest appeal. When the system rectified that dreadful miscarriage of justice that occurred. Living in short with the only way I could rationalise things and in effect accept my circumstances as they were just so wrong. If I had known I was going to spend that much time in there I would have done some further training that would have made my life now a lot easier.

However it was all I could do was stay focused at the appeal at hand and keep my emotional and psychological ..I never really adjusted to prison life and the damage it does to a person. I wouldn't accept the reasoning they gave to take a person's rights and privileges away and while I was continually battling depression, I poured my energies into finding a daily out.

I got out prison by working various jobs I spent hours writing letters and cards to a steadily growing list of friends and supporters. I read books. I enrolled in small papers to keep the academic stuff going and I read the newspaper and every day I called at least one person on the outside to hear what was happening. I just didn't belong there so I did my best to keep up with the world on the outside.

Becoming institutionalised

As time went on this way of thinking and the approach to life inside wasn't working. I became more and more depressed by the legal teams' ongoing battles to achieve anything in the courts. I knew I was becoming institutionalised as each year ground past and I hated myself for falling into that trap.

Despite my best efforts time had wore away my resolve and I had become as much a part of that environment as any of those bravado type guys who had walked into the wing.

In 2001 after seven years of constant legal battles I had a visitor from the other side of the world. It helped transform my attitude. Dr Rubin Hurricane Carter. He understood my situation because he had been there. I was floating in a void with no sense of direction and no hope. Rubin, the force of his personality, his 110 per cent attitude to life changed things for me. It was as if he opened a door to the void I was in. Just keep going. Don't succumb to the system. Be your own man. Stand proud.

I couldn't do things in the same way but it was enough to inspire me to find a way. I had to approach things more positively and I found an element of peace knowing I could continue to fight. While things did not change immediately for the better it did help me cope with life and survive long enough to see the tide change. One way or the other we made progress until my second trial in 2009 the last time I set foot in a courtroom as the accused.


Life is full of things that pressurise us. One doesn't realise how easy life is out here when compared to the life of an innocent man convicted and jailed.

I found pressure from the obvious sources - my lawyers' requests for information which challenged my memory but there were the less obvious. Friends wanted things from me. I had a relationship with a lovely lady. There were obvious stresses talking about our future. The possibility regular pressure from the media. One of the first jobs I had in prison was full of pressure. I worked in the kitchen for a little over a year and for a fair bit of that time I was the first cook.

Imagine the pressure I faced making sure the food was edible because when I had to walk back into the wing and face 80 hardened crims who had no inhibitions in telling you that the food sucked.

Then I got a job in the medical wing as a trustee and then that came with all the pressure that came from the junkies and lads who wanted a free hit. If I wasn't getting offers of cash, it was getting offers of the bash.

Nothing came of it. By this time the guys knew I could not be bribed or yield to threats. Conditions are what you make of them so with the help of my many friends I managed to keep the ledger in the black for the bulk of the time. I worked as a carpenter and then in an engineering shop, designing and building agricultural machinery. Just a way of keeping myself busy.

I recognise the people without whom I would not be here today. At the beginning there was a little group of friends who were outraged I had been charged because they knew me and how close I was to my family. They gathered together, raised money ....

Of all my friends there was one man whose charisma, whose strength and integrity shone through and gave me the ability to concentrate on surviving. Over countless visits he would promise to have me out by Christmas. Every Christmas for 11 years. Through phone calls and letters we formed an extremely close bond and absolute trust in each other.

I first met Joe in 1996 after the failure of our first appeal when he took up the baton and helped my lawyer take our first appeal to the Privy Council in London. After that first meeting I walked back into the wing and still had no idea of the man I immediately trusted. I told another guy and he was amazed I didn't know of Joe Karam.

He was a rock solid advocate. He is an incredibly dogged seeker of the truth. He is intelligent and welcomed me into his family. Today I am proud to call them some of my closest friends.

I would still be languishing in prison. I would never admit to something I did not do. I will forever be indebted to Joe. He represented a saviour when I had lost faith in the rest of humanity. Without Joe I would not be here at this special conference.

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