Most murder cases hinge on circumstantial evidence,
because as a rule your average murderer prefers to do the
deed while no one else is watching. The verdicts in such
cases are therefore always going to be controversial,
because a jury can never be absolutely certain what
happened. All they can do is weigh up the probabilities on
the basis of the evidence presented in court. And that’s all
the rest of can do, too. So I can’t say that John Barlow did
murder Eugene and Gene Thomas at a business meeting
in February 1994, and for his and his family’s sake I’d be
delighted if it could be proved conclusively that he didn’t.
But as a journalist who covered his three trials 15 years
ago and wrote about the case for the Listener I agreed with
the third jury’s verdict of guilty, because that’s what the
evidence convincingly indicated to me; and I’ve heard
nothing since to change my mind.
For me, then, the British Privy Council is right to reject
Barlow’s appeal, even though it agrees that the form of
forensic testing used on bullets found at the murder scene
has since been discredited. That’s only one small technical
point in the case against him, which remains—the council
correctly says—overwhelming; and to try to clear his name
on the basis of it is like wilfully failing to see the forest for
the sake of a single twig.
For all the protestations of Barlow’s wife and sister I've yet
to see a satisfactory answer from them to the much more
relevant question, ‘If he didn’t do it, then why was he in
such a hurry to throw a gun, a silencer and some bullets into
the Happy Valley tip the morning after the murders?’
Hardly the action of an innocent man with nothing to hide.
As I said in the Listener at the time, a note pinned to the
wall of the homicide room at the Wellington central police
station summed up the situation even more inescapably:
'When Barlow went to the meeting they were alive—when
he left they were dead.'