Media drawn in, or is it complicit in Bain blame game?

Yesterday I was critical of the co-ordinated marketing and PR of a untested theory by Joe Karam in two media outlets. Other journalists have noticed, most notably Martin van Beynen, who has written an article in the Press about how the media have been drawn into Joe Karam’s spin machine.

I wouldn’t say drawn in, I’d say complicit, but then Martin is far more polite than me.

Throughout the Bain saga, there has always been a sneaking suspicion that buried in the mountain of evidence relating to the killings is a piece of the puzzle which would end all argument. The clincher, the game-changer.

Before the trial in 2009, for instance, Bain’s lawyers claimed to have startling new evidence which, in the event, never lived up to the prior publicity. The police thought they had slam-dunked the case when they believed they had detected David saying “I shot the prick” during his emergency phone call. The evidence didn’t make it to the trial.

However, on Wednesday night TV3 claimed to have found that all-important puzzle piece – two marks on the right thumb of David’s father Robin, marks apparently missed by the hundreds of professionals and amateurs who have pored over the case.

The programme contended the marks were made when Robin Bain loaded the magazine of the murder weapon, a .22 rifle, at some proximate point before he shot himself in the head in the lounge of the house. It said the lines came from burned gunpowder residue typically found on top of the magazine housing and which rubbed onto Robin’s thumb.

Do I now need to issue a public apology to David Bain and Joe Karam? It’s true I would be left with a huge amount of egg on my face if indeed the apparently new discovery proved David Bain’s innocence. So I accept from the outset these comments have to be read in that light.

No apology will be coming from me. The latest revelation is certainly not the clinching piece of evidence the programme claims. It’s not even particularly convincing.  

Only people who believe in chem-trails and the third man on grassy knoll would think this was a “slam-dunk”. It isn’t as I will outline in a later post.

For a start the marks don’t even look much like the sort of powder deposits seen on the collection of Bain camp experts who participated in the tests by loading bullets into the rifle’s clip.

If the marks on Robin’s thumb are from the magazine they would have been deposited close to the moment Robin shot himself. So you would expect an imprint very similar to that left on the thumbs of the Bain experts. It’s possible some of the residue was removed as Robin placed and held the rifle to shoot himself in a very odd way but, amplified, the lines on Robin’s thumb look defined and crisp.

Unlike the marks left on the Bain camp’s thumbs, the marks on Robin’s digit are not parallel or soft in outline. They are also thinner and from what I can see, not even the same colour as the test marks.

If Robin was loading a number of bullets, as he must have according to the defence scenario, how come only one set of marks was left on his thumb? Did his thumb follow the same track every time?

We also need to remember that under the defence scenario, Robin, sometimes wearing David’s gloves, must have handled the gun extensively. Yet the only fingerprints on the rifle belong to David Bain and his murdered brother Stephen. Neither did either of the two magazines – one in the rifle and one on the floor – have any of Robin’s fingerprints.

Joe Karam forgets that he has tirelessly claimed for more than a decade that Robin Bain wore gloves…can’t have it both ways Joe.

The programme certainly highlighted, possibly without meaning to, the position of the magazine right next to Robin’s hand. It was perched on its narrowest side.

The new scenario propounded by the TV3 programme would have Robin shooting his family and then waiting to just before David was due to come home from his paper-run to turn on the computer (so he could write his last message) and, before shooting himself, placing the spare magazine on its narrowest side on the carpet.

Then when he falls to the carpeted floor after the fatal shot, he conveniently lands with his hand right next to the magazine. It seems much more likely the killer placed the magazine on its edge right next to Robin’s hand to make it look like a suicide.

The magazine issue is key…if as Karam claims via his tame media flunkies that Robin Bain loaded the magazines and therefore is the killer, how come his finger prints aren’t on either magazine, nor on the rifle? How come the magazine came to rest on its thinnest side on carpet? These scenarios thankfully have been better highlighted by the David Bain camp over-egging their spurious claims for compensation.

On the defence scenario, Robin, after the killings, had to have changed his clothes and footwear, put his soiled clothes in a washing basket and had a bit of cleanup before he shot himself. This is because none of his family’s blood was found on his clothes, hair or skin. So if the marks on his thumb were there before the change and clean-up, they had to have escaped being rubbed off or smudged.

It’s also possible the marks were deposited just before Robin shot himself as he loaded the magazine again before the final exit. But given the gun’s tendency to misfire why didn’t he just put a bullet in the breech?

So what produced the marks if it wasn’t the magazine? One thing the TV3 programme highlighted was the state of Robin’s hands. They look pretty battered and bruised. The Bain camp would say the scabs and bruises come from Robin’s violent struggle with his son Stephen but they are much more likely to have come from handyman Robin repairing his guttering on the weekend before the killings (on Monday).

The Whale Oil blog has raised the very real possibility they are the marks of someone who plays the guitar or banjo. Robin was an accomplished musician.

Yes, Robin Bain played bluegrass…a type of music necessitating excessive plucking…those scratches could certainly have been caused by a guitar or banjo which he played. Or indeed from his maintenance of the house’s guttering…in any case they are far more believable than the supposition of Karam and his armchair experts.

To say the marks end the argument is laughable. As I have said many times, David Bain, if he wants to show he is innocent, needs to explain about 20 to 25 pieces of evidence which point to his guilt.

I would have a lot more faith in the TV3 programme if it had tried to be at least a little independent. The photographic expert the programme consulted was Christchurch-based Peter Durrant, a scientific and technical photographer who in 1985 developed a new photographic technique for analysing the visual effects of wear on the pile of carpets.

He is not a forensic scientist and has no expertise about firearms and residues on bodies. He also gave evidence as a defence expert for Bain in the second trial and was largely discredited, in my view, when it turned out the photographs he had produced to support a defence theory were out of the sequence in which they were taken.

Ahhh so the “expert” has been used before by Karam…hardly impartial, hardly scientific, hardly forensic…snow job is probably a better description.

An ESR scientist was at the test firing featured in the programme. Was he asked for his view?

As viewers, we also need to ask why an independent forensic scientist was not consulted before reporter Melanie Reid concluded emotively, the “game changer” had been found. TV3 bought the defence line on the evidence and did a one-sided job presenting it.

And the Police were ignored too…despite them having examined this issue before.

The programme, and the media coverage of the Bain case in general, also raises a wider issue.

Everyone would have noticed the new information was released first to Bain-friendly media. TV3 had the exclusive and The Herald had the first newspaper story. (TV3 also got the first patsy television interview with David Bain.)

Fairfax Media did not get a look in and neither did TVNZ. Both have published and broadcast material unfavourable to the Bain camp.

You also have to ask, if the information was so crucial, why wasn’t it shown to the Minister of Justice first so she could get Crown experts to investigate.

It would be naive to suggest the media doesn’t play games and doesn’t get played itself. But the Bain case seems to be driving the media into throwing independence to the wind so it curries favour with one camp. The TV3 programme was in my view, a sad and painful night for New Zealand journalism.

I don’t claim to be independent on the Bain case either, given I have nailed my colours to the mast. But at least it is out in the open.

The media is being played as part of the Bain camp’s attempt to put pressure on the Government to pay compensation. So marks on a thumb, a game changer? Only if you ignore everything else.

Collusion anyone?


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  • An excellent piece from Martin van Beynen, who at least has publicly disclosed his views on Bain, and does not pretend neutrality. His comment on media who have been critical of Karam and Bain the Younger being shut out by the Karam PR machine are especially damning.

    • Yes, I was listening the whole time until the phones stuffed out and ex party presidents Mike the Marauder and She Who Must Not Be Named came on. Boag (oops), claimed she had never really taken sides and then vigorously defended the marks as credible evidence. Riiiiight…

  • Col

    If the marks are not as they say, it dam well looks like it to me, because of the rifle, clip and the killings. Just saying? I find it hard that the police stuffed up at the start, otherwise you would have a guilty man or a free man.

    • The marks, if they are what they are suggested, aren’t scored into the skin. They would simply discolour it. And using the finger in any other way would rub them off again. It’s simply some residue. For people to believe they remained through a scuffle leading to his death is drawing a very long bow. Even longer than deciding the clip is the only credible source for those marks. In either case: beyond reasonable doubt? No. Interesting speculation at best. It made for “good” TV and certainly has ignited debate, but I doubt anyone has changed their position on Bain’s guilt because of it.

  • This is well argued and convincingly presented. One of the curious aspects to the latest Bain circus is the enthusiasm of Michael Reed QC in promoting the ‘game changer’ revelation. Surely it is reasonable to suggest that a person of his training and calling is well capable of analysing the new ‘evidence’ and coming to the same reasoned conclusion as Van Beynen.
    I accept that he is a ‘hired gun’ but in his exuberant over-egging he has, in my opinion, done his credibility and profession a serious disservice.

    • This is all about TV ratings and nothing about the Case. The fact they pre-loaded everyone with the conclusion and then spent an hour trying to justify it is a snow job.

      I know nothing of the TV code of conduct to be ‘fair and balanced’, but to me ti seems that programme would fail any such test.

      • Nechtan

        I agree, not balanced at all. I wonder what the Broadcasting Standards people would make of it? I would well imagine had the program shown similar bias against the Karam camp then they would be complaining long and loud.

  • MarcWills

    Seriously, are people suggesting that the pathologist who examined Robin Bain’s body wouldn’t have seen the marks on his thumb (which were photographed and fingerprinted) and noticed that they were powder burn deposits? Surely the logical explanation is that they were old scars and consistent with the cuts and marks on his other fingers. To me, the photos look more like old cuts – certainly not powder residue.

  • John

    The fact that Assistant Police Commissioner ruled out the marks came from loading a magazine, BEFORE police experts have even looked into it, is typical of the police work on this case. As soon as they looked at David, they ruled out (or simply didn’t investigate) any evidence to the contrary..

    They failed repeatedly to test evidence against Robin Bain, including completely destroying the crime scene by burning the house down, just days after the murders.

    • opusx

      The Police initially viewed the scene as a murder suicide, as David had told them, and investigated it as such. Upon completing the scene investigation they established David as the main suspect. So where is it said the Police never looked at Robin as a suspect? Or anyone else for that matter?

    • Timboh

      So you think that the Police burned the house down? Wow it’s amazing what you can read from watching contrails.

      • Nechtan

        Those tin foil hats do tend to obscure one’s vision.

    • kehua

      The Police burnt the house down? fuck offf you egg.

      • John

        The Police OKed the burning, They were there watching as a huge amount of important evidence went up in smoke.

        Why didn’t they even bother saving major evidence like the bloody footprints?

    • Steve

      It’s funny that so many are judgmental
      of the Police. The defense had access to the photos for 19 years… For 19 years
      they failed to see something that they themselves are calling a slam drunk…..

      One piece of evidence that their
      entire team had in front of them for 19 years…and not one of them saw it.

      One begins to wonder whether they were convinced
      enough to go looking for evidence that supported the theory that Robin pulled
      the trigger…. I mean you’d assume that they would have scoured the photos of
      his hands for evidence of gsr or bruising or something….

      • Patrick

        For 19 years they have tried to convince all & sundry that Robin was wearing gloves – that explained the lack of Robin’s fingerprints on the rifle – now all that is reversed, Robin was not wearing gloves. Will be interesting to see what the explanation now is for Robin not leaving fingerprints all over the rifle as we know during the murderous rampage there were various (well documented) struggles with members of his family.
        Horseshit to it all – tell me David when you look in the mirror do you see a murdering bastard looking back at you?

  • Patrick

    There should be no confusion – the media are complicit on this one. The Bain murders drives ratings, it is still a hot topic in NZ. Ratings sell advertising space. As a side line if the media could get this “over the line” they get one over Judith Collins, someone they have struggled to better over the years.

  • CheesyEarWax

    The irony is the new evidence really show David is really guilty.

  • Mr Sackunkrak

    David Bain …. I’m so over it. My phone is off the hook.

  • Phar Lap

    To listen to Mike Hoskins on morning Newstalk ZB.It is a done deal in Bain’s favour.He certainly has been over the top since the alleged bankrupt TV3 channel showed the latest theory.

    • pukakidon

      It just proves what a complete idiot Hoskins is.

  • Reason1

    Someone should use a ranking theory to rank all the evidence both ways and attach numbers to their strength. That may show the weight of evidence either way.
    apart from the evidence. for me the reason I think David Bain is guilty is the way he has behaved right from when the murders happened, but especially since his acquittal.
    Immediately after the not guilty verdict when all the media wanted to hear from him he was staged managed not to say anything. I would have thought after 13 years in prison for a murder of your family you would want to tell the world your story loud and clear. Arthur Alan Thomas and David Dougherty were not very well educated but were very keen to tell their stories and looked very believable. David still is kept from the media, when he was asked on TV in s soft interview whether he did it, he was not at all convincing. He hides behind Joe Karam and his lawyer.
    I would have thought the evidence that David had told a friend he could use his paper round to as an alibi to commit a rape is huge, I have never heard one of my friends talk of planning a rape.
    David Bain should be the defense teams best weapon in the PR campaign but he hides away with no real explanations for some of the events that happened around the time of the murder. The defense team portray him as a sensitive weakling that needs his hand held and protection. I believe he is a calculating manipulator.

    • parorchestia

      Good idea, but somethings have to be evaluated independently. “Crucial” evidence, according to the defence, were the blood footprints that were supposed to be shorter than David’s feet, thus implicating Robin. But if you are in a state of excitement going about in stocking feet killing your family you are most likely to curly your toes, so leaving shorter than normal foot prints. Why this wasn’t realised by the prosecution I will never know, but it destroys any possibility of the footprints being conclusive either way, which blows the defence argument clean out of the water (and the Canadian judges conclusions, too). David was guilty: blood on his clothing, abrasions and bruises consistent with struggling with Stephen, fingerprint on the gun, placement of the magazine rather than it falling, highly unusual “suicide” note on a computer that David never used, the missing 25 minutes or so and so and so on ……… All these need no weighting, they just “are”.

    • “Someone should use a ranking theory to rank all the evidence both ways and attach numbers to their strength.”

      Sounds like a Global Warming Model for Crime.

      Just kidding. Seriously though, assigning weights to the vertices requires human judgement, and I suspect this is where the house of cards comes down again.

  • simon

    I’ve often wondered if karam believes deep down that bain is guilty – or has come to believe it over the years – but is now so deeply intertwined in the case, that he has no other option – consciously or subconsciously – but to continue with his agenda.
    It’s been very gratifying to see other media and the police coming out shooting and tearing the “gamer changer” to shreds since the bain love fest on TV3 the other night.
    Anyone know if there are any books about the case in the works since trial 2.0?

    • simon

      game changer, doh!