A vicious, filthy thug without conscience

07:11, Mar 12 2009
COLD-BLOODED KILLER: Terry Clark (played by Matt Newton) shoots Greg Ollard (Chris Sadrinna) in the Underbelly TV series.

Pat Booth, who led the team of journalists that uncovered the drug syndicate, says the TV series is full of fiction and omissions. Here he sets the record straight.

I don't want to be a witness when tragedies are trivialised for money- making entertainment. So, no, I'm not watching the Mr Asia TV series.

The TV3 full-page ad - "The true story about a small-time New Zealand crim who went on to become the biggest crime lord in Australia. How's that for Kiwi ingenuity" - just sickened me. Ingenious? Homicidal, sadistic, totally without conscience, a vicious criminal who murdered or had killed at least six associates - one survivor estimates 12 dead.

TERRY CLARK: Not the real Mr Asia.

He also destroyed the lives of hundreds of New Zealanders with his drugs, and left families mourning loved ones from the suburban community I shared.

Dead sons, missing without a trace or physically and mentally crippled by the addictions he made a fortune from, some still living under the false names given to protect them because they talked nearly 30 years ago. And daughters seduced into carrying drugs, exploited sexually and beaten when they failed.

I remember the pain of the mother of one of Terry Clark's victims, clinging to hope. "Why do you say my daughter is dead?" I couldn't tell her that beautiful girl had been a drug courier, that we knew how she died and who murdered her.


I know the truth about Clark, having led the Auckland Star team that revealed the syndicate and pursued it for more than a year until it self-destructed through its own violence.

Clark took out a contract on me - $30,000 and flights from Sydney to have me killed, like Australian anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay, who was murdered in Griffith two years before. He was never found; the only clues were cartridge cases in a car park.

The hit man for me never arrived.

In 1980, I wrote The Mr Asia File, the first definitive book while Clark was awaiting trial. He pointedly carried a copy into court at his trial in England for the murder of the real Mr Asia, Martin Johnstone.

The TV series, riddled with fiction and omissions, drew millions of viewers in Australia. No doubt it will here too, and advertisers will peddle their wares in its ad breaks. But my memories of the syndicate and its victims are too raw.

Like the then-anonymous woman's voice on the phone the night the Star published our first findings - having coined the Mr Asia label for Johnstone. Her warning: "You have made a serious error of judgment. Martin will not be pleased."

My reply: "I never doubted the person we're pointing to was not going to like it."

Then there was overnight tampering with the family car, trying to injure or kill my wife and children; the calls naming my sons as potential victims; a break- in, switching the deepfreeze off to rot just to let us know they'd been; the lawyer who waved a plastic bag of Star clippings at one reporter at court, saying: "We're watching you lot." Those clippings were next seen when British police searched Johnstone's luggage after his murder.

My criticisms have support from an unlikely source, described as "the highest-ranking Mr Asia syndicate member still alive". Seeing the series in Australia, he damned it as "bullshit".

The Dominion Post quotes him on a sequence in the series showing Clark being beaten by rivals: "If that had happened to Terry or me back in those days, we would have killed them. We'd have gone around and shot them." You don't have to convince me.

He says Clark - the man writers have described as "suave, charismatic and personable" - developed a taste for murder and "lost it" after taking too many drugs. "I can put him down to about a dozen [murders]."

About the script: "The only thing they got right are the names." Not even that.

Let's get this straight. Terry Clark - alias Alexander Sinclair - was not Mr Asia. I know, because our disgruntled Star team dreamed up that label for Johnstone when the company barrister ruled against us naming him - despite our evidence.

Johnstone - Marty to his mates - described himself as Martin C Johnstone Esq on the business card I've still got. "Esquire" was his syndicate codename. He was based in Singapore. So, to us and our readers, he became "Mr Asia". The name lived on - he didn't.

* * *

Then there's the television sequence when one of Clark's women strips and rolls on a pile of money spilled on to their bed. Our good sources at the time would say wrong time, place and even wrong mistress.

With the help the TV crew is reported to have had, why choose to get it so wrong, reviling the wrong person's name and discrediting her even more with someone else's gangster moll-style moment.

The name our police sources gave those years ago wouldn't surprise anyone. If you go to British police files - and even some in New Zealand - you could even track down Clark's own photos of the incident.

I won't name victims or low-level Clark followers. Why begin the torment all over for parents who see their children vilified once more, as if their original grief was not enough, or rebrand someone stupid in the past but who has rehabilitated themselves since?

I don't worry about the consciences of lawyers who bent the law for the syndicate - those jailed and/or struck off. Others did nicely off the legal work that followed.

And I remember who took their wigs and flew to London trying to arrange a defence of the indefensible after Clark's murder of Johnstone.

IF YOU watch to the last episode, you may be interested in this reconstruction I first published in The Mr Asia File.

In 1979, in the build-up to Johnstone's murder in November, I began getting calls from Peter Miller, a Kiwi in a Fremantle jail after abortive drug runs from Thailand. He was quite an operator. Picked up after one dope-smuggling run to Perth, he brazenly tried another while on bail. Aussie police arrested him off his flight home.

He was a former "business partner" of Johnstone in front companies labelled the Milltone group - from the names Miller and Johnstone. He'd crewed for him running drugs. We knew him from documents in our files.

With years to run on his sentence he was prepared to blow the whistle in return for serving his time in New Zealand. He would only talk to the Star, and when Murray Williams and I flew to Perth, he signed a statement confirming that.

Later, after Johnstone's killing, Williams flew to Singapore, gathering evidence on his operations, photos and that business card. He'd contrived access to Mr Asia's office in the drug organiser's unlikely front company, an aquatic birds and fish emporium.

When we gave Miller's document to New Zealand drug police - whose superiors had refused them tickets to Perth - they began preparing an arrest warrant for Johnstone. They planned to bring him home to trial, with Miller as a star witness.

That's when years of bribes to crooked elements in Australia's drug police paid off for Clark. While in Perth, I spoke to highly placed narcotics bureau contacts, briefing them on the Miller plan, to get their support. Mistake.

When the facts hit the computer, they were leaked to Clark in Britain. Knowing he couldn't depend on an arrested Johnstone's loyalty, and fearing he would do a deal, Clark called him to Britain, murdered him, chopped off his hands in case fingerprints would identify him, and dumped the body where he believed it would never be found.

But divers found the body in a flooded quarry - and detectives came calling on Clark and his real mistress.

See if that's in the series.

* The Auckland Star Mr Asia investigation won best story of the year in newspaper awards in 1980. With Pat Booth, other team members were Sue McPherson, Josh Easby and Murray Williams.


*  Aged 79, born in Levin.

* Best known for his seven-year crusade to free Arthur Allan Thomas, and for heading the Auckland Star's special drug investigation team into Mr Asia.

* Auckland Star deputy editor between 1964 and 1980. Also had stints as assistant editor of North & South magazine and editor-in-chief of Suburban Newspapers.

* Author of 16 books, including The Mr Asia File, Deadline - My Story and Edmund Hillary: the Life of a Legend.

* Received a Print Industry Award for Outstanding Achievement at the 2001 Qantas Media Awards.