Crimes, Dogs and Bugs


Shirley took this picture as we said goodby to them

Another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

The atmosphere in the Supreme Court shocked me. The Chief Justice seemed to be in a towering rage all the time, and there was a sense of apprehension in the court. Outside the glass doors at the end of the room a man was hovering. The Chief Justice caught sight of him, and loudly instructed a court official to tell him to take his hat off or go away. And that was the sort of irrational domineering energy with which the whole judicial procedure was conducted.

The police and the crown prosecutor sat with a relaxed and satisfied air, confident that the findings would go their way. The Thomas family and supporters including the farmers and countrymen on the Re-Trial Committee sat and hated them. And I hated the lawyers who were not partisan, but who all knew each other, fenced with each other in court, and joked and chatted outside!

At the end the Crown prosecutor read out his summing up from the second trial with all the lies, distortions and half truths in it which had helped to destroy Arthur Thomas’s credibility and convict him. So all through that night in his hotel room, Patrick (not the dilatory lawyers) went through it fact by fact, line by line and re-butted it all with the truth, the real facts and the new evidence which he’d published in the newspapers over the past eighteen months, and which negated the crown prosecutor’s summing up. As he wrote each page, the counsel’s secretary copied and typed it in her room.

The four other judges (not the Chief Justice) were impressed by this prodigious achievement when Arthur’s counsel read it out in court, but it didn’t change their opinion one little bit. When their findings were published months later they had accepted that Patrick had proved his theory about the cartridge cases, but said they couldn’t rule out the possibility that there were bullets and cartridge cases in existence which could prove the Crown case. This extraordinary logic meant that Arthur Thomas remained in prison.

The rest of the evidence, they glossed over… things like a gold watch wrongly attributed to Arthur in the first trial and covered in blood and mucus. It didn’t figure in the second trial because between trials, the real owner had contacted them to say it was his watch which he’d taken into the jeweller to have it cleaned after pig killing. Patrick learned of this when an anonymous caller rang and said, “Find Fisher”. He had no idea who Fisher was, but sleuthed and finally tracked down the owner of the watch who now lived several hundred miles away. When he went to see him, he asked Fisher if he still had the watch and they found it in his children’s toy box. The helpful mysterious caller must have been an honest policeman.

When Arthur’s supporters including Patrick and Jim Sprott, his father, and the Chairman of the retrial Committee took the case to the Privy Council in London, the same bias operated against them… the Crown Law Office had phrased the appeal to ask for an opinion. When everyone had spent huge amounts of money getting to London, the Privy Council threw it out saying they only dealt in rulings, not opinions.

We were all devastated, and on his return from London Patrick was instructed by his firm to stop his work on the Thomas case – it was the end of the road. But he refused saying that a thing that was wrong didn’t stop being wrong just because they hadn’t won yet. He continued to write stories and place them to keep the case in the public’s mind, and by doing so put his career on the line. We weren’t sure where to go next, but we knew we had to keep going wherever it took us.

He wrote a book called Trial by Ambush and sent a copy to every member of Parliament. It disappeared into a pit of silence, and I suspect that none of them bothered to read it.

While we waited for the results of the court of appeal in Wellington, and Sir Richard Wilde’s judgement, we had enjoyed our first Christmas in our new home, with Patrick’s eldest daughter, husband and grandson joining us, and also a large black and white bull which ambled through the garden and stuck his head in our open bedroom window to greet us on Christmas morning.

With the coming of New Year Bill and Shirley now arrived to spend two days with us. Bill had to report to the police every day, so he had done this first thing in the morning before they left for us and he did so late the next day when they arrived to stay with friends the following evening. This meant, they thought, that they would have the two days with us, when the police would have no idea where they were, and the SIS would be unable to tail them.

This was optimistic. Months later, when Patrick was discussing the trial with one of the Star’s reporters, the reporter said to him, “Of course – the Sutch’s stayed with you at New Year, didn’t they?”… which told us two things – one, that the reporter was an SIS spy, and two, that the SIS must have bugged Bill’s car, and knew exactly where he was – with us.

My letters to Shirley and hers to me would take ten days to reach us and had obviously been steamed open.  Our letters were perfectly innocent but it felt unnerving to know that we were under that level of surveillance. The two days Bill and Shirley spent with us was full of fun and laughter. The shock of the spy arrest had changed Bill, a proud and rather arrogant man – now he had become very gentle, and almost humble… Shirley was her effervescent articulate self, and their conversation was both provocative and thoughtful…

We had a lot in common – including Quakerism, for though neither of them had a belief in God, they had many Quaker friends, and I had been an enthusiastic Quaker attender for years. ( Quakers are committed to non-violence, and a belief in the light in every man)

Our new friends both loved the children – my son, who we jokingly called the mad gardener, who towed his collection of beloved potted plants on his trolley to different parts of the garden which he thought they’d enjoy, before leaving for school every day. Bill gave him advice on how to fix a lawn mower engine to this trolley to make it faster!

My daughter gave them a spirited exhibition of the Maori poi dance, and began a friendship with Shirley sharing their love of art that lasted until she died. Shirley later gave her the wonderful advice that when she went to University she should choose subjects she loved not subjects which would be useful.

We waved goodbye to our guests, who drove off to stay with a friend called John Male who was working with Quakers and other peace lovers to create the New Zealand Peace Foundation of which he became founding president… an unlikely friend, the SIS might have thought for a spy…

Both children were learning the piano and they also wanted to learn the flute and clarinet respectively, and played duets together. We walked our dogs up the lane every day, which now included Patrick’s elegant afghan, and two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, both rescued, and both adored. It was about this time that as we were walking the dogs, my daughter said to me, “You know, most mothers think their geese will grow up to become swans, but you think we’re swans already!”

It was true! And I loved trying to create an idyllic country life for them, going strawberry picking and blackberry hunting, making jam and bread, trying my hand at bottling fruit, crocheting counterpanes for our beds.

We always had a holiday project, once it was applique, another time learning to write in copper plate handwriting, which was a disaster for my son, who’s deeply disturbed teacher at the village school, hated any sort of talent, and mocked him until he gave it up. Another holiday I borrowed a bike, and we explored the country roads on our bikes. We painted, and both children evolved painting what they called Happy Cards, some of which went to Oi, while others ended up in Arthur Thomas’s cell in Paremoremo Maximum Security Prison, two and a half hour’s drive away, when we all visited him.

The children also created Happy Boxes, in which valued objects from shells to cards, photos, letters and other treasures were stored. These began as painted shoe boxes, but as time went by, both children used Christmas money to buy themselves a beautiful antique box each for their collections.

When they’d done their homework and their music practise, I used to read aloud to everyone every night – one husband, two children, and three dogs in the audience – starting with ‘The Little Prince,’ laughing over Toad in ‘The Wind in the Willows,’ agonising over the fate of Boxer being carted off in ‘Animal Farm’, crying our eyes out when Dora died in ‘David Copperfield’, while the death of Gyp, her beloved Cavalier King  Charles  spaniel, delivered the coup de grace to us all. We ended this ritual with Doris Lessing’s ‘Shikasta’ when my son was sixteen.

These were good days and though there were many challenges to come, we all had enough belief in what we were doing to carry us through… challenges which included my car crash, a price on Patrick’s head, and the ignominy of never winning a prize at the annual Flower Show!

To be continued.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

After supper the other night I had the plate of ginger, dates, walnuts and dried figs leftover which we had grazed on instead of pudding. And all the packets containing them were open. So I decided to make one of my favourite cakes.

A reader gave me the recipe forty years ago, and even drove all the way out to our house with a sample cake. I’ve made it ever since ! The basic ingredients are a pound of dried fruit to two cups of flour, half a pound of butter, three eggs, a cup or more of sugar, and a teasp of vanilla, almond essence and orange essence.

But I have played with it and added to it, and each batch is different to the last. I usually add a bit more fruit, and sometimes a dollop of golden syrup as well as the sugar, which is always brown. If I have bits of apricot jam, ginger marmalade or honey sitting in the bottom of jars they go in too… sometimes I do half butter, half oil… sometimes a cup of whole meal instead of all SR flour or a cup of almond meal with all the flour.

This time, the fruit consisted of all the stuff I’d already opened, chopped small, plus a good cup and a half of sultanas, some chopped prunes, and the remains of some Christmas mince which I found in the back of the fridge, and still seemed good to go. Boil the fruit in a cup or more of water. Add the sugar, golden syrup and such-like, then the butter/and or oil. When the mixture has cooled slightly, stir in the beaten eggs one at a time, and the essences. Finally the flour.

If I’ve added more fruit, and all the other ingredients, I’ll often have topped up more butter, another egg and more sugar, which means at this stage, more flour.  I simply add enough to make a firm consistency. It’s as though you can’t go wrong with this cake.  Poured into a couple of greased cake tins, lined with greaseproof paper, I often arrange crystallised ginger on the top, and sprinkle sugar to give it a sweet topping (if I’m going to over-indulge in cake then I want it sweet). I often use loaf tins instead of traditional round cake tins.

If I use this for a Christmas cake then obviously, I top it with marzipan but not always icing… Place in a moderate oven to cook for an hour or until the skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin, and then, if I’ve made two, one is wrapped in foil and a plastic bag, cut in three and put in the deep freeze for future use when someone calls.

Food for Thought

Some fun from Isaac Asimov:

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.






Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, family, great days, peace, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized, village life

28 responses to “Crimes, Dogs and Bugs

  1. This is such an important record of injustice and perseverance, all juxtaposed with ordinary life which makes it compelling reading.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. A good fruit cake is so restorative to health and happiness.And isn’t it interesting that a fruit cake can be more forgiving and amenable than a justice system?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh yes, indeed Amanda – I agree with all that you say abut a good fruit cake – laden of course with fruit, figs, raisins, nuts, etc etc . I also feel it’s the perfect cake to take when visiting the bereaved- symbolising, caring, nourishing and a certain gravitas… a lemon sponge or chocolate brownies just would not do !!! !!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A Happy Box is such a great idea and a treasure to keep for the future. I think you needed those happy boxes to get through this ongoing trial Valerie!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love your daughter’s comment that you already saw them as swans. That is the magic of parental love. Great family photo, my favourite kind. I feel as if I’ve started my Sunday morning out perfectly, reading your story. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Ardys… what a lovely comment … yes, the photo was just one of those spontaneous snaps as our friends said goodbye, and yet it’s lasted for forty four years !- I don’t think a snap taken on a phone will be around in that time!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Juliet

    What a terrible time that was for justice. Your record is important, ‘lest we forget’. The warmth of your friendship and Pat’s courage and investigative powers are inspiring. I love your creative approach to the school holidays too. I’ve missed a few of these but will go back and find them. You write so well!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Juliet,
      I so love to see your name and know that there will be a juicy thoughtful reflection on my story…Yes, I feel I want to write my record of what happened then, as it has been distorted so often in the retelling by others – getting on the bandwagon themselves…
      re school holidays – Do you sometimes long for those sweet days when your chlldren were young… so much water flowing under the bridge since those days…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I read every one of Pats articles on the case and recognised the ring of truth in them. As for the sweet days of childhood, to be truthful, solo parenting was so tough that those days were not so sweet. But grandpa renting is, thankfully.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know what you mean about the solo parent thing after doing it for six years, and yet we still all loved the closeness and cooperation we enjoyed then… how interesting that you read all Patrick’s articles back then …

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Jane Sturgeon

    What a lovely photo, Valerie. ❤ One lie begets another and where does it end? Innocent people getting hurt and lives changed beyond recognition. I love your creativity with the boxes. Huge hugs and much love flowing to you and fruit cakes….. ❤ Xxx ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dearest Jane, lovely to see your smiling face.. yes, the photo was one of those spontaneous snaps taken forty four years ago, and as I’ve said to another friend, has lasted much longer than any pic taken on a phone will do, I suspect..
      A a h… fruit cakes and happy boxes.. the things in life that matter !!!!
      Much love XXXXXXXX

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Reading books together – so many wonderful memories come to mind of reading with my son. What I find most remarkable is that you created a vibrant and joyous home in the midst of difficult circumstances. You chose “light” rather than “darkness” and courage over despair. I love your family photo – the smiles are contagious for I find that I am smiling in return. Hugs and love coming your way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dearest Rebecca… those memories of childhood and sharing books are so precious aren’t they… Thank you for the lovely things you say about my story… it’s been so interesting looking back and seeing what we were up against, when at the time you just muddle through…
      The photo was just one of those spontaneous snaps taken forty four years ago, and as I’ve said to another friend, has lasted much longer than any pic taken on a phone will do, I suspect.. love and smiles coming your way too XXX

      Liked by 1 person

  8. “a thing that was wrong didn’t stop being wrong just because they hadn’t won yet.” What a true statement! I love that photo of you. You are the most stunning woman. Your daughter and son favor you so much. Their Smiles, actually happy grins, bespeak of a very happy life. Hugs to you! You are most wonderful to share with us your life story!
    Your friend from across time and distance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dearest Linda,
      Trust you to comment on that sentence… I always though it was a brilliant statement by Patrick…
      Thank you for all that you say, I treasure your generous words and thoughts…
      The photo was just one of those spontaneous snaps taken forty four years ago, and as I’ve said to several other friends, has lasted much longer than any pic taken on a phone will do, I suspect

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wonderful picture, Valerie – what stamina working during such difficult external tensions but counterpointed by a restorative home life for all of you. Makes magical reading!


    • Hello Lynne,
      Lovely to see you and read your response to our challenges… which at the time just seemed to be our normal !!!
      The photo was just one of those spontaneous snaps taken forty four years ago, and as I’ve said to several other friends, has lasted much longer than any pic taken on a phone will do, I suspect…
      Thank you for your lovely words and appreciation, good friend XX

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Lovely family photograph Valerie 🙂 ❤


    • Greetings Ralph, hope all is well in your lovely neck of the woods…good to see your familiar photo
      Our family photo was just one of those spontaneous snaps taken forty four years ago, and as I’ve said to several other friends
      who’ve commented on it, it’s has lasted much longer than any pic taken on a phone will do, I suspect…
      I don’t know how to do all those clever little coloured symbols, so take the words for the deed !!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hello again dear Valerie 🙂
        It’s lovely to hold old photographs or browse through an album, isn’t it ? Even so, I scanned all my old photographs a while ago and are all now backed up on memory sticks.
        They are called emojis and can be found in an app or extension on your browser.
        Thank you my friend, all is well here as I hope it is with you.
        Love your autobiography posts ! 🙂 ❤


  11. Dear Valerie,

    Such lovely times you recount in a most engaging way. I love the photo of your beautiful family.
    When my boys were younger and their father would be off working, we used to have ‘art nights.’ They still remember those times with fondness as do I. So I loved your recounting of projects you did with your children.
    I’m so sorry about Arthur Thomas. What a horrible injustice. I currently correspond with a gentle man who years ago robbed twelve banks using only notes. He never carried a gun or threatened anyone. No one is excusing his robberies born out of desperation. But he’s served the Federal sentence but the State slapped him with a longer sentence (murderers get out in less time). At any rate I’m somewhat involved in petitioning the the Missouri governor to grant him clemency. Some of us, including his wife (whom he met in prison…she’s a teacher…long story) are working on it. Sorry…I didn’t mean to climb up on a soapbox. At any rate, Keith and I write to each other regularly. See? Your stories send me off on tangents.
    As always, I enjoy your accounts and look forward to the next installment. Love to you and himself.

    Shalom and love,


    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Rochelle,
      what an amazing comment. I felt very moved to know that you are committed to helping another person like Keith who needs it.
      I think it’s wonderful, and I so hope that your efforts and those of your other campaigners are successful…
      I won’t tell you the end of my particular story.!!!..
      Will be answering your letter soonest…


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