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Brent Garner
Police officer ‘attacked and left to die’

What ever persuaded Detective Brett Garner he could fake a crime and outsmart his mates at the Palmerston North CIB? Garner set it up to look like he was the target of a dangerous vendetta, attacked, overpowered, trussed up, tortured and left to die in his burning house.

Initially there was a lot of publicity - outrage from police and the public that one of the ‘thin blue line’ had been attacked in his own home and left to die in his burning house. But after a while the media coverage petered out. Police outrage faded. They went quiet and some people began to wonder. Then Garner was arrested and the bizarre story unravelled.

A brutal attack on one of their own?

On 18 October 1996 police had rushed to Garner’s house in Ashhurst, to what appeared to be a brutal attack on one of their own. Garner said he’d been assaulted in his bedroom, covered in petrol and his back lacerated with deep razor cuts. He told his shocked colleagues the intruder tied him up and tortured him and that he made a lucky dive out his bedroom window just as his home exploded in a fiery blaze. The Oak Crescent bungalow was completely destroyed. Fortunately, as it then seemed, Garner's wife Sam and their two daughters were in Tauranga.

According to Garner’s account, police had a serious offender on their hands with an anti-police grudge and after a satanic letter was found, even reports of cult like practices were taken seriously. While Garner provided a detailed description of his attacker, there was no suspect for the crime which had made police and public throughout the country very angry. An attack on the police is an attack on the fabric of society!

One obvious early aberration was Garner’s dog. With a reputation for keeping a noisy watch it had not barked. There was speculation the attacker might have fed it drugged food. Operation Venus was set up and the police published a likeness of the assailant provided by Garner who told police the offender spoke with a ‘cultured English accent’. There were no leads or sightings of the offender.

Detectives become suspicious

Unknown to the public and to most police, the investigation team under Detective Inspector Doug Brew had become suspicious and a parallel investigation - Operations Mars - had begun headed by Dete
In a pressured interview Detective Brent Garner confessed. The whole crime had been planned and staged by his own hands.
ctive Senior Sergeant Grant Nicholls, into the possibility Garner had staged the crime himself. Of some significance for discerning observers, police public comment on the incident had quietly petered out.

As trained as he might have been in criminal investigation techniques, Garner was no match for Brew, Nicholls and their team and in a pressured interview Garner confessed the so-called crime had been planned and staged. Garner told police he doused the house with petrol and set up a trigger device to ignite it.

His back injuries had been self-inflicted with a scalpel attached to a wooden handle. He had tied and gagged himself, the fire started as planned and he dived out the bedroom window, faking a narrow escape from death.

Why the elaborate charade?

Why did Detective Garner go through such an elaborate charade? Like so many crimes, it was domestic-related. He was having an affair with a Palmerston North CIB receptionist and planned to leave his wife. He felt under extreme pressure and was financially strapped. He concocted the crime and burned the house to collect the insurance to give his wife half and end the marriage. Garner’s lawyer said he was scared to upset his wife.

He pleaded guilty and was convicted and sentenced to prison.

Detective Inspector Doug Brew was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal in the 1997 New Year’s Honours list. His citation included reference to his work as officer in charge of the Garner investigation and to his role as officer in charge of the investigation into the Ansett dash 8 aircraft that crashed near Palmerston North airport in 1995 in which four people died.

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Brett Garner, a detective who tried to outsmart his mates - and lost

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