Dougherty's conviction led to his death - supporters

12:10 pm on 29 April 2017

The journalist who broke the story of David Dougherty, who was wrongfully convicted of rape, says it was the trauma of the case that killed him.

Coat of Arms inside the High Court in Rotorua

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Mr Dougherty was convicted in 1993 over the abduction and rape of an 11-year-old girl in Auckland, and spent more than three years in prison before being acquitted at a retrial in 1997.

He died from pancreatic cancer last week at the age of 50.

Donna Chisholm

Journalist Donna Chisholm Photo: Supplied

Journalist Donna Chisholm, now editor-at-large of North & South magazine and a senior writer for The Listener, supported him through his retrial and during his long fight for compensation.

She told Saturday Morning the trauma of the conviction had fueled Mr Dougherty's alcoholism, which is linked to pancreatic cancer.

"He was damaged for the rest of his life by it, and he couldn't get through it."

Chisholm said she was drawn to Mr Dougherty's case because the justice system had failed him and he was a kind man.

"When I first met him in jail - you can go into these things and not know who you're going to be dealing with for a number of years - and I found him the most kind, articulate, and a very intelligent, well-read guy. He wasn't typical.

"And yes, he was vulnerable, and that was clear right from the start and he didn't like having to seek help - but he needed it."

She said Mr Dougherty had "gone downhill quite badly" during the four-year compensation battle.

"Just before the compensation amount was announced he broke into a pub and stole a bottle of alcohol and kind of gave himself up," she said.

"So, I really regret that it took so long to go through that process."

The lawyer who helped Mr Dougherty win compensation in 2015, Murray Gibson, also said the cancer was probably a result of the trauma his former client went through.

"I can't imagine what it's like everyday to realise that you're in prison for an offence that you didn't commit."

Nicholas Reekie was found guilty of the the rape and abduction in 2003, 11 years after Mr Dougherty was arrested for the crimes.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs