A thorn in the side of the political elite

HAWAII FIVE-O: Graham McCready in his home office.
HAWAII FIVE-O: Graham McCready in his home office.

"Welcome to my humble hovel," says Graham McCready, bedecked in a blue Hawaiian shirt.

It's fair to say he's no housekeeper. Papers litter his council bedsit. Folders overflow from a bookshelf, and a giant photocopier perches on a small set of drawers.

McCready, 69, is tired. He's just off the overnight bus from Auckland, where he worked on his latest legal crusade against Auckland Mayor Len Brown.

He came home to disappointing news: his private prosecution against Brown had run into a hitch because documents filed in the Auckland District Court were sent back to him because he failed to get leave from the Attorney-General as required to press charges of bribery and corruption against an elected official. McCready alleges Brown's undeclared room upgrades from SkyCity for himself and his wife led to "favourable consideration" towards SkyCity.

McCready said he would make an application to the Attorney-General for consent and the private prosecution would be refiled. "This matter is not going to go away any time soon," said the man who has been a thorn in the side of politicians for decades. In the 1980s, he attempted a private prosecution against prime minister Robert Muldoon. In 2007, he targeted Labour MP Trevor Mallard, after he was involved in a scuffle with National MP Tau Henare at Parliament. Mallard eventually pleaded guilty to fighting in a public place.

Now his legal actions against both Brown and John Banks are gathering pace.

In May, Banks will face the High Court at Auckland on three charges of breaching electoral law, relating to a failed 2010 bid to regain the Auckland mayoralty.

What started as a private prosecution by McCready was taken over by the solicitor-general when the District Court ruled the case should proceed.

McCready traces his love of a scrap back to his school days. An address on freedom of speech was banned by the principal. He wrote a second speech about butterflies, but tore it up on stage and delivered the forbidden homily instead. "I got a standing ovation. That was the start of it, and I've been doing it ever since."

A career with the air force brought him both a trade as an engineer, and a serious drinking problem. He says alcohol cost him his marriage to Sylvia, a woman he met in Canada.

"It lasted 20 years. It's a miracle she stuck around as long as she did."

In 1986, he scored a bit part in The Boy in Blue, starring a young Nicolas Cage, after scouts visited his rugby club in search of Antipodeans. "I played the part of an Australian drunk. It wasn't much of a stretch."

He eventually stopped boozing, and hasn't had a drink in more than 20 years.

Like some of the people he has prosecuted, though, he has been on the wrong side of the dock, a process he described as "toxic" and where "the odds are stacked against you".

In 2009, he pleaded guilty to 12 charges of filing false income and GST returns, and filing a false income tax return to evade payment. He was sentenced to six months' home detention.

His health took a battering. "There was uncontrollable shaking, sobbing. My blood pressure shot up and I went into a deep depression."

Last year, he pleaded guilty to blackmail, after threatening to expose claims that a company director was guilty of financial impropriety and was mentally ill. McCready said he would keep quiet if the man surrendered his company position and signed over his majority shareholding.

McCready apologised: "My conduct was criminal, unnecessary, and I am sure caused you some considerable distress," he wrote.

The effects of that case on his health were "even worse", he says. "My blood pressure shot up again. I was on the verge of a stroke."

So why put others through a process that almost destroyed him? "If it's justified, then yes I will."

McCready is often described as a retired accountant, or serial litigant. He doesn't like either term. "I've worked on computers, I've worked on nuclear power stations, I've written technical manuals, a book, I'm an advocate.

"I'm not a chartered accountant, I supply accounting services. There's a difference. It's like being an advocate versus a lawyer."

As well as his "humble hovel", he works out of a "floating office" - a 28-foot yacht he bought for $2500 on TradeMe, with an annual ACC lump sum payout.

Sailing almost proved McCready's undoing. In 2001, he and four crewmates were plucked from the stricken trimaran Tulukatea off the Wairarapa coast.

"I hadn't secured the anchor properly . . . it got loose and punched a hole in the bow."

Last month, he was bankrupted for a second time. This week he had barely enough money for a pie on the night bus.

"There's isn't much money around today. But there's food in the house, and tomorrow is another day."

Sunday Star Times