By Phil Taylor of The New Zealand Herald
Crusading newspaperman Pat Booth was driven by the belief that the world needs more giraffes – people prepared to stick their necks out.
“That’s what he said in a speech to the Northern Club and I love that,” his step-daughter Victoria Carter told the Herald. “We need to create a Giraffe Club because the world needs more giraffes, more people who stick their necks out.”
Booth, one of the country’s most respected investigative reporters, died on Wednesday, aged 88, at Kumeu Village Rest Home in West Auckland.
Booth spent nearly 40 years at the now defunct Auckland Star, becoming editor, and is most renowned for his tireless work on the Arthur Allan Thomas miscarriage of justice case and the Mr Asia Crime syndicate.
The stories were scandalous and horrifying and were reported by Booth and a team of his reporters in a depth rarely achieved.
As part of the campaign for a pardon for Thomas, Booth wrote a book, Trial by Ambush.
This was followed by another campaigning book, Beyond Reasonable Doubt, by British investigative author David Yallop.
Booth’s eight-year crusade resulted in Thomas, wrongly jailed for double murder, receiving a royal pardon.
A Royal Commission report stated that detectives had used ammunition and a rifle taken from Thomas’ farm to fabricate false evidence against him.
Booth also helped reveal an international drug ring during the notorious Mr Asia investigations. He wrote a book on the international drug smuggling ring, The Mr Asia File: The Life and Death of Marty Johnstone.
Journalism lecturer James Hollings described Booth as this country’s greatest journalist, someone driven by the desire to right injustice, in his book, A Moral Truth: 150 years of investigative journalism in New Zealand.
“He had such a range of abilities,” Hollings told the Herald. “He was a great writer and had a great gift with people, for the underdog. He was an absolutely tenacious and tireless researcher and investigator and he could inspire other people.
“He lived and breathed journalism till his last and had a passionate belief in why it is important.”
Hollings, who is head of the journalism school at Massey University, Wellington, said Booth’s work still inspired. “I tell my undergraduate students in the investigative journalism course about Pat Booth and what he did on the Arthur Allan Thomas case and they are riveted. It is a story which is timeless.”
Donna Chisholm, editor-at-large of North & South and a senior staff writer for the Listener, described Booth’s editing style as “muscular”. He stamped himself on it. But you knew that if there was a story there Pat would get the right angle and treat it how it should be treated.”
As a young court reporter on the Star in the 1970s, Chisholm returned to the office with a story about a 17-year-old Niuean boy who had been stopped by police for no reason other than his ethnicity and charged with stealing two plastic combs from the plastics company he worked for.
“I told Pat and he cleared out the front page. It created a huge scandal. The following day an Auckland University lecturer walked into the police station and gave himself up for stealing a university pen.” The police declined to charge the lecturer and eventually withdrew the charges against the boy.
It transpired that the combs were discarded rejects.
“Pat was very quick at seeing the nub of a story and wringing it out for all it was worth. He campaigned on this story. It was front page lead for days and days. He was a journalist’s journalist.”
Booth began his career as a reporter at the Hawera Star and kept his hand in, writing “Off Pat”, a column for the Eastern Courier, until hanging up his pen at the age of 85.
He served on the Howick Community Board in the former Manukau City Council on the Northland District Council and Waitemata District Health Board.
He wrote more than a dozen books, including a biography of Sir Edmund Hillary, Edmund Hillary: The Life of a Legend, his memoirs, Deadline, books on sport, crime, vintage cars and social history.
He is survived by six children from two marriages.
Phil Taylor is a senior journalist with The New Zealand Herald and Weekend Herald. Read more of his articles.