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Alec Waugh
A great mystery
One of the great recent mysteries for the public in 1998 was why Wanganui’s police district manager got himself into the position of losing his job, being convicted on 10 fraud charges, fined $10,000 and having to pay $4000 in costs - and 4 years later had all his convictions quashed.

He obviously asked himself the same question and a month after his conviction he came out publicly saying he is innocent, demanding a new trial and seeking a government inquiry into what happened to him. He claimed he was given wrong information by police and changed his plea to guilty out of fear he would lose his superannuation entitlement.

Waugh earned notoriety by becoming the highest-ranking police officer to be convicted in a New Zealand court. Towards the end of a three-week defended hearing in the Wanganui District Court in March 1998, he suddenly resigned from the police and changed his plea to guilty to 10 of 21 fraud charges. Eleven other charges were withdrawn.

What did the Crown say he did wrong?

The prosecution alleged Waugh fraudulently claimed almost $1,500 in expenses from April 1994 until mid-1996. In April 1996, Waugh claimed $104 for a non-work-related toll call. He was queried about it and he submitted a new claim with the call deleted. All his expense claims were then audited and 38 required further examination. Waugh was asked for an explanation, which was considered unsatisfactory and in December 1996 he was cautioned and formally interviewed.

He subsequently faced 21 fraud charges arising from his expense claims. He pleaded not guilty and a long District Court trial ensued. Waugh’s defence was that he had been careless and sloppy in his claims, but he denied criminal intent. The Crown countered that Waugh, with his intimate experience of police management and financial structures knew exactly what he was doing.

As an example, Waugh went to Auckland in April 1994 and claimed for meals and a two-night stay for him and his wife at an hotel saying he was attending a seminar. Prosecutor John Upton QC, told the court this was a sham and there was no seminar. Other charges involved claiming for hotel meals on his police credit card, then claiming again on a travel claim form. Ten charges related to travel claims, eleven to phone calls.

Surprise plea change!

Waugh unexpectedly changed his plea after testifying on his own behalf for two days. Following the guilty pleas, His counsel John Rowan asked that he be discharged without conviction so he would have less difficulty in getting another job.
He said Waugh would make a substantial contribution towards the trial costs, well in excess of what he might expect by way of a fine. He said Waugh “had been completely and publicly humiliated and now faces a time of great uncertainty. A career of great promise has been destroyed,” he said.

However, prosecutor John Upton argued that what had happened amounted to white collar crime. He also asked why Waugh had put police non-sworn staff through so much trauma in having to give evidence to the extent they had to receive counseling. “Why did he not plead guilty at the outset?” he said.

In sentencing Waugh, Judge Michael Hobbs said he was bewildered. “I can find no explanation why a man with an hitherto unblemished reputation and so committed to his career could fall from grace in such a way,” he said.

The Revered Richard Waugh, in comment to the media after the court case, was highly critical of the decision to prosecute his brother, describing it as ‘a black day for police culture and leadership’. He would not say why his brother had changed his plea but said, “To protect his wider interests he has had to make some very difficult decisions in the last few days.” However, those reasons were to be made public by Alec Waugh, a month later.

Waugh’s boss, Assistant Commissioner Colin Wilson said he was saddened Waugh had tarnished an otherwise innovative career. He said the police set a high store in integrity and that no police officer is above the law.

‘Both respected and resented’

Journalist Jon Morgan wrote a profile on Waugh which appeared in The Dominion on 17 March 1998. He quoted observers at the trial as saying the charges against him had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt and he still had several witnesses to call in his defence.

Morgan writes that the picture that emerged of Waugh is a man respected by Wanganui business, civic and cultural leaders for a caring, non-confrontational attitude, but resented by men who cling to a macho police culture.

Interestingly, Morgan lists Moutoa Gardens protest leaders among Waugh’s supporters. Whanganui River Trust Board chair Archie Tairoa, and protest leaders Niko Tangaroa and Ken Mair attended preliminary court hearings to show their support for Waugh, whom they attribute as instrumental in avoiding the use of force against protesters. They described him as very considerate of their position. Morgan goes on to say some police rank and file officers considered Waugh to be ‘too soft on Maoris.’

In an interview last year Waugh described policing in the 1970s as “being built around myth and imagery and in many cases, swelled heads. Many senior staff thought they were great thief catchers when all I could see was bigotry and incompetence.”

Morgan says Waugh’s tendency to distance himself and not communicate well with his subordinates, even those who agreed with him did not help his popularity.

Belated claim of innocence

A month after his conviction, in a surprise move, Waugh went public claiming he was innocent.
He said he had changed his plea to guilty and resigned from the police towards the end of his trial after receiving advise that unless he took that action, the police commissioner would use his discretion and refuse him superannuation entitlements.

An NZPA story published in The Dominion of 9 April 1998 said Mr Waugh could not afford the loss of his superannuation, which he had paid into for 30 years. The trial had cost him $120,000 in legal fees and he had almost exhausted his personal finances.

He said that under that pressure and duress he had no choice but to plead guilty. “Yet I maintain that I never submitted a claim for personal benefit. I am an honest and ethical person,” he said.

Police National Headquarters dismissed Mr Waugh’s claim as “outrageous.” Assistant Commissioner John White said Waugh, through his legal adviser, approached police to “explore his cessation of service options. Sadly these were limited.”

Mr White said he could not go into detail about the discussions because they were confidential. “But it’s clear he faced some difficult choices.”

However, Mr Waugh told NZPA that after the trial police admitted they had no grounds to withhold his superannuation. "The police, through Assistant Commissioner Jon White, have admitted their instructions were incorrect. I would never have pleaded guilty to any charges. I believe I am innocent of any criminal wrongdoing.” He said he wanted a rehearing of his case and an inquiry into the matter.

However, Mr White said “To suggest that police pressured Alec Waugh into his decision to change his plea, or to apply to resign, is absolutely refuted. He was seeking advice from a number of different independent quarters, and the decision he made was his own.”

Waugh reinforced his position in a later 20/20 current affairs television programme. He has a reputation for single-minded tenacity and has excellent analytical and investigative skills. He has considerable experience in industrial relations through a long association with the police service organisations including vice president of the New Zealand Police Association, then secretary of the New Zealand Police Officers Guild. He joined the police in 1968 and rose quickly through the ranks. He completed a BA in New Zealand history in 1990, then a master’s degree in public policy.

Convictions Quashed following Independent Review

Following former High Court judge Sir Thomas Thorp's independent review, (the findings of which were described by Waugh's lawyer, Rob Moodie, as 'evidence of a miscarriage of justice') in June 2002 Justice Minister Phil Goff recommended to the Governor-General that the convictions of former Wanganui police superintendent Alec Waugh be referred back to the High Court.

In September 2002, 10 fraud convictions were quashed by the High Court at Wellington.

Justice Lowell Goddard ordered the convictions and $10,000 in fines to be quashed.

Court costs are to be awarded against the police and are expected to run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

However, police say the inquiry found compelling evidence against Waugh on three original charges (totalling $54) but won't be prosecuting him.

Waugh calls the charges "contrived nonsense" and says he wants an apology. He also says he'll be seeking further compensation if he doen't get his job back.

The police actions are before the Police Complaints Authority.

UPDATE: July 5th, 2003
Judge L Goddard of the High Court awards costs to Alec Waugh for the 1998 District Court hearing of $64,198 and $10,000 towards appeal costs. This is at the upper end of Costs pursued under the Costs in Criminal Cases.

November 3, 2003
Employment Court hearing Wellington begins. Alec Kynaston Waugh applicant and The Commissioner of Police Respondent

Dec 1, 2003
Depositions hearing December 1, 2003, against Assistant Commissioner Jon White, Superintendent John Kelly and Crown Prosecutor John Upton relating to offences against section 117 Crimes Act 1961 (Corrupting Juries and witnesses)

Back to White Collar Crime Index

Most senior police officer to be convicted in a New Zealand court has convictions quashed

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