Case of Swedish tourists: David Tamihere loses long battle, turns out to have murdered Swedes again

But he vowed to continue fighting to prove his innocence and said he was open to taking the case to the Supreme Court.

“I’ll get on with it,” he said.

“That’s really the principle of the matter.”

Höglin’s body was found in a shallow grave in 1991, but not Paakkonen’s body, who, according to the Court of Appeal, was abducted by Tamihere for sexual reasons and later killed.

“David Tamihere is the only person who can help bring closure to Heidi’s family,” Police Assistant Commissioner for Investigations Paul Basham said after the court’s verdict was released.

“Our message to him now is the same as it has been for more than two decades: You know where Heidi’s body rests and her family has suffered enough,” Basham said.

“Tell us where we can find Heidi and help give her family the closure they deserve.”

Tamihere has long maintained his innocence and continued his case on appeal even after he was paroled from his life sentence in 2010.

After being convicted in 1990, Tamihere took his case through the Court of Appeal to the Privy Council, and lost, before being granted a rare royal privilege of mercy to take it back to the Court of Appeal.

That court’s ruling released Thursday found one point in Tamihere’s favor — it says there was a miscarriage of justice when the evidence of a prison informant, since discredited, was given at his original trial.

However, it said that new evidence in the case trumped it.

“For that reason, the miscarriage does not justify setting aside the convictions,” the ruling said.

“We accordingly decline to exercise the court’s jurisdiction … to vacate Tamihere’s convictions.”

The latest Crown theory says Tamihere killed Höglin first, near where his body was found in a shallow grave two years later.

It says Tamihere then drove Paakkonen in the engaged couple’s car to another location and killed her as well.

“Where and how she died cannot be known,” the court order said.

“The Crown says the evidence overwhelmingly points to Mr Tamihere as responsible.”

However, Tamihere said none of the Crown’s version of events — at his original trial, the first appeal, and the one that informed the latest decision — was accurate.

“The Crown has come up with three stories now,” he said.

But Basham said the latest result was “hugely validating” for all police staff who had worked on the investigation over the years.

The “thorough investigation” helped them to present all the facts to the Court of Appeal.

He said police remained determined to find answers for Höglin and Paakkonen’s families.

“Our investigators remain particularly concerned that we have never been able to locate Heidi.”

Tamihere denied meeting the couple

Tamihere has previously admitted to stealing the couple’s car, but denied meeting them.

Two events since the trial in 1990 led to the referral to the Court of Appeal.

The first was the discovery of Höglin’s remains in bush near the Wentworth Valley west of Whangamata in 1991.

This was a considerable distance from where two trampers said they encountered Tamihere with a young, blonde, European-looking woman near Crosbie’s Clearing north of the Thames on 8 April 1989.

The Swedes had last been seen in the Thames the day before.

The second incident was the discrediting of evidence from a prison informant, Robert Conchie Harris, who told the trial that Tamihere had revealed to him that he had almost been “feathered” by two people in the bush – an account which tended to corroborate Tramper’s account.

Harris was convicted of perjury in connection with that evidence in 2019.

Taken together, these developments cast doubt on the accuracy of Tramper’s identification of Tamihere.

But the court said this week it had considered new evidence the jury had not heard.

It said it was confident Tramper’s account of meeting Tamihere was correct, and the woman with him must have been Paakkonen.

The court was satisfied Tamihere used a key he took from the couple to get into their car.

It said Tamihere had clipped some items found in the bush, including the couple’s tent and Paakkonen’s used underwear.

The motive was sexual assault

They also looked at the motif.

“We have considered the evidence about Mr Höglin’s remains and the possible motives for murder – a confrontation in the bush, robbery or sexual assault – as suggested at trial or before us,” the appeals court said.

“We find that the evidence points to a sequence of events where the couple drove to Wentworth on April 7 or 8 and met their attacker there.

“Höglin was killed and Paakkonen was taken away and killed elsewhere,” the decision said.

“Given the manner of Mr. Höglin’s death and the evidence that she (Paakkonen) was not killed at the same time and place, the most likely motive for his death was a desire to abduct Paakkonen for the purpose of sexual assault.”

Swedish couple Urban Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen killed. Paakkonen’s body has never been found.

The court said it also had admissions, reluctantly made by Tamihere when presented with evidence against him, about his movements and his dealings with the couple’s property.

“He also lied and adapted his account as he believed suited his interests when confronted with new information.”

Some of these lies were “evidential of guilty knowledge” of what happened to the couple.

“The evidence overall satisfies us beyond reasonable doubt that it was Tamihere who murdered Mr Höglin and Mr Paakkonen.

– In our opinion, the target against him is very strong.

“It does not rest entirely on the tramists’ identification.

“Rather, it derives its strength from a number of sources, including his use of the couple’s key to gain access to their car and his treatment of his property.

“It also rests in part on his admissions when confronted with evidence he could not explain away, and his proven lies.”

The couple disappeared in 1989

Höglin and Paakkonen disappeared while hiking in dense Coromandel bush in April 1989.

At the time, Tamihere was on the run from the police.

Three years earlier, he had raped and threatened a 47-year-old woman in her home for more than six hours.

He pleaded guilty to that crime but had ignored his bail conditions and fled to the bush, where he lived rough.

He also had a previous conviction for manslaughter after hitting 23-year-old stripper Mary Barcham in the head with a rifle in 1972, when he was 18.

On April 10, 1989, Tamihere encountered the Swedish couple’s white Subaru, “loaded with gear,” parked near the start of a difficult walking track.

He stole the car – something he has always admitted.

Weeks later, after the Swedes’ disappearance had sparked the largest land-based search in New Zealand’s history, Tamihere was linked to the car.

He was charged with their murders three months later, when he had already been convicted of the previous rape conviction.

At the November 1990 trial, a prison informant then known as “Secret Witness C” testified that Tamihere had confessed to the murders while in prison.

Witness C claimed that Tamihere told him that he had hit Höglin with a piece of wood and dumped the couple’s bodies at sea.

Two other inmates also testified that Tamihere had confessed.

Trampers see the woman

The other important piece of evidence came from two trampers who claimed to have seen Tamihere with a blonde woman who looked like Paakkonen.

But it was after Tamihere’s conviction, even though the Crown had no bodies or a murder weapon, that the case was turned on its head.

Two years to the day after Tamihere was charged, Höglin’s body was found in a shallow grave by pig hunters near Whangamatā, more than 70km from where the Crown said the murders took place.

It was not enough to convince the Court of Appeal at the time, or the Privy Council later, that Tamihere’s case should be reconsidered.

He spent 20 years behind bars.

The Crown’s 1990 case was further called into question when Witness C, revealed as the killer Conchie Harris, was convicted of eight counts of perjury in 2017.

A jury found that Harris had lied about Tamihere confessing to murder in prison, after jailhouse attorney Arthur Taylor brought a private prosecution.

Three years later, then Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, on the advice of then Attorney-General Andrew Little, granted Tamihere royal clemency, referring his case back to the Court of Appeal.

It was the appeal route that was decided today.

David Tamihere at the Auckland High Court hearing for the Witness C perjury case in 2016. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Ric Stevens worked for many years for the former news agency New Zealand Press Association, including as a parliamentary political reporter, before holding senior positions at various daily newspapers. He joined NZME’s Open Justice team in 2022 and is based in Hawke’s Bay. His writing in the field of crime and justice is based on four years of experience as a frontline correctional officer.

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