Veteran journalist Pat Booth dies, aged 88

4:48 pm on 31 January 2018

Veteran journalist Pat Booth has passed away at a rest home in Kumeu after a short illness.

Sally Collings, his youngest daughter, confirmed he passed away about 1.20pm today.

"Pat Booth was a very respected journalist, but not only that he was loving father of four children," she said. "We will miss him and his stories ... and we love him."

Ms Collings said her father was proud of his work covering the infamous Arthur Allan Thomas case, and the Mr Asia crime syndicates.

He continued writing until about a year ago, when he began suffering from mild dementia.

A staunch believer in the need for campaigning newspapers, Booth tackled corruption and injustice, as well as racism and poverty, during his long career.

Born in 1929, he grew up in Hawera in Taranaki and took up his first reporting job on the Hawera Star in 1947.

He moved on to the Auckland Star three years later, in the first of what became several stints at the paper, covering everything from sports to politics and crime.

"I've been very fortunate actually. I regard myself as the person who was lucky enough to be the right person at the right place but I think I was regarded by The Star as a pin-shooter that they could put into anything and get some sort of a job out of it as a result."

In the early 1970s he moved to the Catholic newspaper Zealandia - the first layman to be appointed its editor.

He found himself in the news when he condemned the rock musical Hair, which featured a brief full nudity scene.

At the time, it was sensational and the New Zealand production was prosecuted and Booth appeared as a police witness.

It was on his return to the Auckland Star that he became involved in two of the biggest news stories of the decade - the Mr Asia drug syndicate and the Arthur Allan Thomas case.

Covering Mr Thomas' second trial in 1973 for the 1970 murders of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe, he became increasingly uneasy.

When the second guilty verdict was delivered, his unease increased, as he explained in a Radio New Zealand interview in 2010.

"I cannot really describe the atmosphere, the absolute sadness and horror and shock of the family and I was deeply, deeply disturbed by it and I decided at that point that I would investigate and I discovered so many variations.

"Evidence had been changed, facts had been distorted, things had been said in the summing up that had no basis in the evidence at all."

Convinced the jury had not heard all the evidence, he began a seven-year campaign to free Mr Thomas. In 1975, he published his book about the case, Trial By Ambush, and won the National Investigative Journalism Award that year.

His efforts helped to gain a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the case, and in 1979, Arthur Allan Thomas was pardoned. Two years later, Booth was awarded the OBE for his services to journalism. He said later the story was the biggest of his career. He always believed the case was one of murder-suicide, rather than a double murder.

In the late 1970s, Booth headed the Auckland Star's special investigative team which uncovered the brutal Mr Asia drugs syndicate and one of its key players, Terry Clark.

Booth said the dangers of the story were very clear.

"The high point, or low point of it, was a phone call - an anonymous phone call to central police - to say that a contract had been let on me by Terry Clark. $30,000 dollars and a return airfare from Sydney and the contract had been taken up, which was not a very nice feeling."

Despite the threats, he went ahead and The Auckland Star published a series of articles.

His book, The Mr Asia File, came out in 1980 and received some extra publicity when Terry Clark carried a copy into court when he was tried in Britain for the murder of the real Mr Asia, Martin Johnstone.

The Auckland Star team won the Qantas award in 1981 for its investigative reporting on the case.

In 2009 he heavily criticised the televised drama Underbelly: The Mr Asia Story. He said he was sickened by attempts to glamorise the story and didn't see why families who were affected at the time should have to go through it all again.

Booth became The Auckland Star's deputy editor in 1977 but when, three years later, he was passed over for the editor's job, he left the newspaper and moved to Radio Pacific as a news executive.

Later he worked for North and South magazine, winning the 1988 Media Peace Prize for his article Learning To Live With The Waitangi Tribunal - Facts Without Fear.

Later he worked for Suburban Newspapers Auckland, a Fairfax subsidiary, where he ran a controversial series on Asian immigration.

He was also a regular newspaper columnist, lectured in journalism, and served on the Waitakere City Council and the Waitemata District Health Board for 11 years, retiring in 2015.

Booth wrote a number of novels and biographies and published his autobiography, Deadline, in 1997.

He is survived by his second wife Valerie, his four children and two stepchildren.

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