"Seriously flawed" is a pretty good way to describe the science behind Mark Lundy's conviction for the murder of his wife Christine and daughter Amber, writes Geoff Levick. Photo: Getty Images

Geoff Levick, who campaigns to fight Mark Lundy’s conviction for murder, scorns a pathologist’s comments on the case

Dr Cynric Temple-Camp’s latest book about his experiences as a pathologist, The Quick and the Dead, follows his 2018 debut The Cause of Death. Both books read well in a Boy’s Own style, rollicking along with tales of death. I hadn’t realised just how many interesting and diverse ways people could die.

I’m only qualified to comment on one of the causes of death that Dr Temple-Camp writes about: the case of Mark Lundy.

“We are not robots,” he states. “Medical professionals are all human and so long as that’s the case, we’ll surely make errors in whatever we do.” He also writes, “Nobody told me when I became a doctor how depressingly common mistakes are in medicine. Some are wholesale failure of knowledge and application and resources … Even our best efforts at finding the truth and our fixed beliefs are just often opinions dressed up as fact. Some may well be seriously flawed.”

“Seriously flawed” is a pretty good way to describe the science behind Lundy’s conviction for the murder of his wife Christine and daughter Amber in their Palmerston North home sometime on the night of August 29, 2000.

Time of death was a key issue in the Lundy case. In his two books, Dr Temple-Camp writes frequently about the tests that should be done to help in determining time of death, which he describes as a “critical ingredient”. He’s not wrong there.

He describes how a pathologist should do as many as four tests on the bodies – rigor mortis (stiffening), lividity (blood settling), body and room (ambient) temperature, and eye potassium levels. These four will give the pathologist varying ranges of time of death, but can be averaged out to find a central possible time. It is, even then, not definitive, but better than nothing.

But one of Dr Temple-Camp’s colleagues, Dr James Pang, went to the double-murder scene at the Lundy home, and did not perform any of these tests. Not one. More bewildering still is that nowhere in his books does Dr Temple-Camp offer a critical word about Pang’s failure.

Christine and Amber had purchased a McDonald’s takeaway meal at 5:38pm on August 29. They got home by about 6pm. Because Dr Pang ruled that they were killed within an hour or so of eating, the Crown asserted at the first trial that they had been murdered at 7-7:15pm. The Privy Council threw this out as unsupported nonsense, so for Lundy’s 2015 retrial, the Crown changed its theory to the murders being committed at about 3am on August 30. Dr Pang didn’t even blink when he duly changed his estimate to fit this new scenario. His description of the stomach contents didn’t change; both times he described them as being “full”.

In his new book, The Quick and the Dead, Dr Temple-Camp states that a “full” stomach would mean a time of death would have to occur within one-two hours of eating. He praises Professor David Silk, who believes that

  • 90 percent of food remains in the stomach after one hour
  • 60 percent after two hours
  • 10 percent after three hours

And so Dr Temple-Camp’s conclusion, which he writes without shame, is that Christine ate her McDonald’s meal – or another big one – at about 1am, which explains her full stomach at 3am.

Early in The Cause of Death, Dr Temple-Camp refers to “Aunt Minnie” as being his guide on some pathological decisions. This Aunt is the “lizard part of your brain, the ancient dinosaur bit that runs on automatic without any intelligent thought”. A bit of a worry, that. It’s one thing to claim Christine Lundy consumed a large meal at 1am, but what about seven-year old Amber, who was also found to have a “full” stomach at her post-mortem? She must also have arrived home at 6pm with her McDonald’s dinner, not eaten it, gone to bed at 8pm as usual, and been woken by Christine at 1am to have her meal. Now, Aunt Minnie may not function with intelligent thought but surely she would have said to Temple-Camp, “Don’t be silly. That’s ridiculous.” Is it Aunt Minnie or Mickey Mouse who is guiding Dr Temple-Camp?

Then there’s the issue of the tiny stain on Mark Lundy’s shirt. Dr Temple-Camp and several colleagues “identified” glial cells (brain cells) as being in the stain on the shirt Lundy wore on the night of the murders of his wife and daughter. They did this by looking at a slide the ESR had made, taken from the shirt stain. Because of that “identification”, the shirt pieces with the stain were sent off to Dr Rodney Miller in Texas who used a medical diagnostic science (immunohistochemistry) to prove the existence of brain or central nervous system tissue. It was crucial to Lundy’s conviction.

Dr Miller works in the field of medical diagnostics. Forensic science is a different discipline altogether and immunohistochemistry has no place in it. New Zealand, in the case of Mark Lundy, remains the only country in the world to allow it in a murder trial.

Dr Temple-Camp ends his account of the Lundy case by wondering if Lundy’s supporters will ever change their minds. He implies that we are some sort of fanatics. Well, we don’t have an Aunt Minnie; we just work on the facts. Before we give up, we would like to see one glaring contradiction cleared up concerning the so-called telltale stain on Lundy’s shirt.

The prosecution case is that the stain contains central nervous system (CNS) tissue, nothing but CNS, only CNS. But a forensic laboratory in the Netherlands has found that there were no brain cells. They identified skin cells, saliva, and traces of menstrual blood. The DNA did not belong to Christine Lundy but another, unknown female.

The Quick and the Dead by Dr Cynric Temple-Camp (HarperCollins, $36) is available in bookstores nationwide.


* ReadingRoom reviews appear with the support of Creative New Zealand *

Geoff Levick campaigns for the innocence of Mark Lundy, twice convicted at the High Court for the murder of his wife Christine and daughter Amber. Levick's investigations were crucial to overturning Lundy's...

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