Laughing all the way to the Banks

Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014
Graham McCready
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
HAWAII FIVE-O: Graham McCready in his home office.

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The Auckland office of New Zealand Private Prosecutions is a stifling, $280-a-week boarding-house room with no external windows.

Next to the $1 printer, $80 computer and $30 photocopier used to plot John Banks' downfall are an unmade bed and an empty bowl of oats.

While Banks contemplated his future from the Stamford Plaza, his nemesis Graham McCready relaxed in the "very nice and central" Kingsland Lodge.

It was the Banks case that brought McCready up from Wellington. When he first arrived he slept on fellow activist Penny Bright's couch, home to the "most exotic species of flea in the world".

Now he uses his electric bicycle to head to Bright's house to borrow the "company car" and drive to his law classes at Waikato University.

Living in Auckland, he says, keeps him close to a community of activists like Bright, people he first thought were "crazy, loopy, off the planet" but now believes are "absolutely right".

McCready is happy, but he's not well. If the trial hasn't been good for Banks, it hasn't been good for him either.

"This has been life-changing for me, and a lot of other people," he says. "Fortunately, it didn't become my end."

He says the "constant pressure" has caused high blood pressure and a series of mini-strokes, giving him numbness in his mouth and arms and pain in his temples and eyes. He's also on a respirator for his 65-decibel snores.

McCready says many assumed he was drinking again when he appeared in court with bloodshot eyes and slurred words. He has, he says, been sober 23 years.

McCready says the end of his work is in sight. But he still has several more prosecutions in train.

One case file involves an alleged leaky building fraud. Another is a private prosecution of Wellington court of appeal registrar Clare O'Brien for the alleged assault of McCready's offsider John Creser.

The modesty of his present surroundings amuse him. "I walk around in upgraded Warehouse grunge [he is extremely scruffy], drive a $500 car and don't charge anything." Really? "Well, very little."

He's on combined New Zealand and Canadian pensions with a disability top-up. "I don't drink, I don't smoke and I don't gamble."

Does he live modestly?

"Yeah . . . and here I am fighting this QC who charges $500 an hour."

His phone rings repeatedly.

"That's another problem. Since Banks it hasn't stopped: all sorts of people from all over the place. We are the advocates of last resort."

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Despite the interruptions, he's an excellent raconteur, and the stories flow. He drops into a lengthy explanation of his motives, dating back to various childhood injustices, including his father's treatment during the 1951 Watersiders dispute, being denied a seventh form chemistry prize, setting fire to the principal's trousers and ignoring his school's demands not to give a speech on free speech at a graduation assembly.

He claims to be indifferent to what sentence Banks will receive on August 1, but he's not very convincing, explaining at length how Banks' "fantasy" of a discharge without conviction will see him "talk himself into jail".

With the authority of someone who has had several brushes with the law himself (he has served home detention and community detention sentences for tax fraud and filing incorrect tax returns and for blackmail), McCready says darkly that the Probation Service doesn't like Banks.

What's also clear is he dislikes Banks' lawyer, David Jones QC, even more than Banks.

The reason McCready broke into a weird song post-trial is, he says, because Jones filed something midway through the battle, when McCready had made a minor technical error, saying it was all over. "I said it's never over until the fat man sings Mozart." And so he did.

McCready's neighbours at the Kingsland Lodge are aware of his infamy. The smartly-dressed man on one side pops out at the beginning of the interview with a smile: "I see you won then!" The woman on the other leans on her doorframe and calls: "You on the news again tonight, Graham?"

He says he's writing an autobiography called Happy, joyous and free. The good mood seems mostly because he's in love. He hasn't seen the object of his affections, a Canadian named Kathleen, since 2006.

They will meet again in Toronto in November, when he will also see his daughters, one of whom is a lawyer.

The distance is no obstacle: McCready has a 1c per minute calling plan and at 3am, takes himself to a pay phone for an hour of conversation with his beloved.

- Sunday Star Times

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