Slain on Duty: Three names to join Memorial Wall
The roll call of New Zealand police slain on duty will have three names added to it this month, bringing the number to 32, as the true nature of the officers’ deaths through criminal acts are finally recognised.
In one case, that recognition comes 78 years later and, as the circumstances of all three deaths illustrate, sometimes it is only with the passage of time that the full picture becomes clear.
Research done by the Police Recognition Project over the past two years identified the officers whose deaths met the criteria for slain on duty. The job involved sifting through myriad files and scraps of information, piecing together what might, or might not, have happened to each officer.
A special ceremony will be held at the Police College this month, in addition to this year’s Police Remembrance Day services, and will include the next of kin of the three men – Constable James Butler, Constable Louis Hekenui Bidois and Detective Constable Ronald Bernard Hill.
The purpose of the Recognition Project has been to improve how New Zealand Police remember staff who die on duty.
In the first round of research, 38 staff were recognised as having died on duty and their families were invited to attend last year’s Police Remembrance Day at the Police College in acknowledgment of that.
The Recognition Project has since named two more police officers who died as a result of performing their duties.
They are: Constable Peter Alan Hart (car accident, Napier, March 9, 1974); Constable Cecil Edgar Orr (struck by a train while searching for a lost diamond ring, Auckland, February 25, 1942).
Also due to be recognised are 14 members of Police who all died in November 1918 as a result of dealing with the sick and dead during the worldwide influenza outbreak that year. The Recognition Project noted that at a time when the entire police force numbered fewer than 1000, the deaths represented a great loss.
On Christmas Day, 1937, Constable James Butler was on duty at the Dunedin watch house when he was involved in the arrest of James Edward McElroy, who had come to the station in a drunken state and complaining of being assaulted.
McElroy became violently aggressive and it took up to four officers to contain him. Constable Butler was helping, trying to secure McElroy’s legs, but the offender broke free and kicked Butler twice in the small of the back.
The next day, Butler was admitted to hospital and he died on January 2, 1938, aged 29, with the cause of death noted as a pulmonary embolism.
McElroy was found guilty of assault causing actual bodily harm, but not guilty of manslaughter. The jury concluded that the blood clotting that killed Butler was unrelated to the assault.
The Recognition Project has found that the court did not sufficiently take into account the full coroner’s report and that important details showing a connection between the blows Butler received and the dislodging of a pre-existing blood clot in his leg had been overlooked. The conclusion was: “It is very unlikely that James Butler would have died had he not been assaulted.”
Louis Heke Bidois
Constable Heke Bidois, six foot (1.82 metres) tall, bushman, hunter, rugby player and a quiet but persuasive negotiator, was described by Police Commissioner James Cummings as one of the finest Maori police officers in the force.
He was based at Te Whaiti, near Minginui in Urewera country, policing remote areas, some only accessible by horseback. During his 14-year career, he disarmed a crazed gunman, confronted groups of gamblers and confiscated moonshine liquor.
On the evening of May 7, 1949, the popular officer was the victim of a viscous assault. While attempting to restore order outside a dance in Te Whaiti, he was struck on the head with a bottle. Two men were jailed for three months for the attack.
After a period of recuperation, Bidois returned to work, but the trauma to his brain was so severe that he never fully recovered from the attack and he died six years later on May 24, 1955, aged 56.
Although he did not die immediately after the assault, the Recognition Project concluded that his death was the direct result of a criminal act, his death certificate confirming that he had died because of the brain injury.
Ronald Bernard Hill
Constable Bernie Hill died on May 25, 1969, aged 22, from massive injuries sustained in a head-on collision near Shannon while he and another officer were transporting a witness to the town. The driver of the other vehicle and one of its two passengers also died at the scene.
Crash investigators confirmed that the police patrol car, which Hill was a passenger in, was on the correct side of the road and the other vehicle had been travelling on the wrong side of the road when the crash occurred, sending Hill, the driver and the witness (who both survived) through the front window.
Those are the bald facts, as detailed in the coroner’s report, but the recollections of Hill’s brother, Glyn, give a broader context to the tragedy. He recalled that on the weekend of the accident, his brother had swapped shifts so he could have the following weekend off to celebrate his wife’s birthday. He had been paying off an expensive coat that he’d had on lay-by and he was looking forward to giving it to his wife, Faye.
On the morning of May 25, he had arrested a burglar in Shannon. That evening he was taking a witness to the burglary back to the town. Glyn said: “It was past his knock-off time, but he was passionate about his job, seeing it through.”
Glyn saw the police car back at the station a few days later and saw how seat belts would have prevented the tragedy. “Sadly, seat belts were not compulsory until a few short years later,” he said.
In a poignant postscript, Glyn said Palmerston North police staff paid off the balance of the coat that had been on lay-by and gave it to Faye.
The Recognition Project concluded that had the driver of the offending car survived, several charges would have been laid. He was a disqualified driver, the car was unwarranted and a witness from a service station said the driver appeared to have been drinking.
As the result of a criminal act, Hill was slain on duty.
Sources: NZ Police, NZ Police Museum, Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Police Remembrance Day 2016
Police Remembrance Day, September 29, falls on a Thursday this year. An official ceremony will be held at the Police College in Porirua and the day will also be marked at other locations around the country.
The service honours New Zealand, Australian and South Pacific police officers slain on duty. It also remembers New Zealand Police staff – serving and retired, sworn and non-sworn – who have died in the past year. Tributes to the officers, the calling of the Roll of Honour, a traditional salute and the laying of a wreath by the Commissioner of Police at the Police College Memorial Wall are integral parts of the service.
Leading up to Remembrance Day, Association committees around the country will receive boxes of Police Remembrance pins in time for them to be worn a week prior to Remembrance Day. The pins can be bought with a donation of $3.
The pins, which feature a huia bird feather embedded with a Police chevron, were created by the Police Association and promoted in partnership with Police as a tangible symbol to honour the memory of police officers slain on duty.
Pins should be worn on the week leading up to and on the day of Remembrance Day, on the left lapel or left hand side, above any medals.
All funds collected in exchange for the pins go to the Police Families Charitable Trust, which helps the families of police officers killed on duty.