Robin Bain

Robin Bain:

More than 1000 people have signed an online petition aimed at denying David Bain compensation for the 13 years he spent in jail. Who are the campaigners who believe the wrong decision was reached at Bain's retrial on charges of killing his family? Tony Wall investigates.

Vic Perkiss, a 57-year-old Coromandel liquor store manager, reckons he has invented a new word: Karamelise.

It is the process by which Perkiss believes David Bain supporter Joe Karam has influenced public opinion on the case. Perkiss describes himself as a "soldier" in the campaign to prevent Bain from receiving compensation.

A full six months after Bain's acquittal, the trial of the decade rages on in cyberspace. It is not prosecuted by men and women in funny gowns with plummy voices, but by anyone with a keyboard and an opinion, and there are plenty of those joining Facebook groups such as Justice for Robin Bain and the website David Bain: Counterspin, which hosts the petition.

Hundreds of people of all ages and from all parts of the country have got involved, including a pensioner who bought his first computer so he could join in the discussion and an 18-year-old Otago school student who set up a pro-Robin Bain group on Facebook because he wanted to make the legal point that David's acquittal does not equal Robin's guilt.

Like others who have joined the anti-David Bain cause, Perkiss directs much of his anger at Karam, whom he believes influenced public opinion to such an extent that not guilty was the only verdict that was ever going to be returned.

He is not alone. In online discussion threads Karam's actions are picked apart, from the way he ran his media campaign to his appearance as a kind of celebrity court assistant helping an expert witness physically prove the Robin Bain murder-suicide theory.

This is in stark contrast to the many New Zealanders who consider Karam a hero, working tirelessly to free an innocent man.

Karam says most of what is said about him online passes him by. "I don't even know how to get on Facebook for a start, or Trade Me, and I'm not in the slightest bit interested. Obviously, people tell me about all the stuff that's going on, but I've got better things to do with my life."

Asked if he, or Bain, planned to sue over any of the online commentary, Karam said: "I've got no comment."

He says Bain's compensation bid is "proceeding", but has yet to be lodged.

"The compensation will definitely happen but it's a long process. It's not something that happens in five minutes unfortunately, it's a complex issue. But I will say that if anybody deserves compensation, it's David Bain."

That is anathema to the likes of Perkiss. "I don't want to see him rewarded."

He and others involved in the campaign are jittery about Karam's intentions, knowing that he has a reputation for being litigious. Karam himself was sued by two police officers for allegations he made in his book David and Goliath.

Perkiss says he would use Karam's successful defence to defamation – honest opinion. Until this year, he hadn't followed the case. "My wife read one of Karam's books and I remember her saying to me, `this guy didn't do it'. I didn't take any notice."

It wasn't until he began reading about the retrial that he got interested, and became convinced that Robin Bain, David's father, could not have done it. "What really opened my mind was when they said Robin Bain had a full bladder [after death]. I asked every man I could meet for a few days what was the first thing they did when they got up in the morning. They all said they went to the loo. That just instigated me into looking into it further."

Now, Perkiss carries a copy of the petition with him wherever he goes, as well as copies of an acclaimed post-retrial article by Press court reporter Martin van Beynen, outlining why he believed the verdict was wrong. Perkiss reckons everyone who reads the article then wants to sign the petition.

Has he become obsessed? "I think I have been a bit, but I'm not now, I've got through that. But I feel very angry that a man I consider innocent is lying in a grave and can't defend himself."

Bryan Forrest, 57, a qualified but non-practising lawyer from Hope, near Nelson, says the suggestion that Robin Bain was the killer goes to the heart of his concerns about the case. "The great issue is the right to silence when you're suggesting someone else did it," Forrest says.

"Your right to silence should disappear in those circumstances. David Bain was able to let other people do his dirty work for him, make suggestions about his father. He himself was never able to be cross-examined on that to see what he thought. I don't think that's fair."

Forrest has written a book, Muddied Waters, so far published only online on the Counterspin site, critiquing Karam's books and writings. He says that as a rugby fan, "Joe is one of my heroes".

"I admire the fact that he threw his resources and time into it. I just believe that once he got into it, Joe's compulsion to win that he had on the rugby field came into play, and he himself became the very thing he was criticising – he wasn't objective...he became tunnel-visioned."

Like Americans who spent years debating OJ Simpson's guilt or innocence, New Zealanders have a right to debate the Bain case, Forrest believes.

"I think there's more at stake than David Bain here, it's the issue of what sort of system we're going to have. Is it going to be a matter of public acclaim, is the media going to be able to whip someone up into a celebrity...until that person becomes acquitted by the overwhelming weight of public opinion?"
Forrest has been waiting for threats of legal action, but they are yet to come.

In Hastings, web developer Kent Parker, 47, is also concerned with legal issues. The creator of the Counterspin site and one of the administrators of Justice for Robin Bain, Parker, who is interested in "online democracy", is worried that he will say or write something that will open himself up to legal action.

"I've read up on defamation. I'm slowly learning what you can and can't do," he says. "The thing is, if Joe wanted to sue us, he would need to have informed us by now that stuff on our site was defamatory. If he sued us, say, in March next year...we'd be asking him if this material is so slanderous, why leave it so long to do something about it?"

Canterbury University law lecturer Ursula Cheer says that although there is always potential for defamation "even if you're trying to do it by implication", the anti-David movement is probably feeling quietly confident.

"I think the thing they are relying on is that he [Bain] won't sue. Why would he put himself through this all over again – the cost, the expense? It keeps it out there, it would be a huge case...and he's keeping a low profile."

Cheer says the campaigners would probably welcome the chance to test their theories in court, as any defamation action would give them the chance to present evidence and they would only have to prove guilt on the balance of probabilities, rather than the higher criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt.

She says everyone has the right to free speech. "They must be entitled to express their opinion on an important public event, as long as they do it in a straightforward way and not maliciously."

The internet has kept the level of chat about the case high, Cheer says. "They used to put you in the stocks for a day and you were shamed and had stuff thrown at you. That was over and done with eventually, whereas now it goes on and on. Is that a bit cruel? I don't know."

Parker, who says the online petition will be presented to Justice Minister Simon Power when and if it gets 10,000 signatures, makes no apologies.

"It won't go away, and Karam is going to have to live with what he's done. Counterspin will be on the net ad infinitum. It can create a thorn."

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