Murder that shocked

00:00, Feb 22 2013

Anyone who remembers growing up in Nelson in the 60s will recall the murder of Peter Banham as an event that stunned the region and nation. Old-school Nelsonians still talk of the tragedy affecting them and changing the community. There is a sense of innocence lost, a shattering of the illusion that Nelson was the safest of havens.

As Nelson Mail chief reporter of the day, Doug McGilvary, puts it, the murder "shook Nelson to its very foundations". "Nelson was a very, very peaceful, quiet, sober kind of community and all of a sudden people started to lock their doors."

Mr Banham's family and other guests gathered from all over the world to mark the 50th anniversary of his death on February 20, 1963. Among them were his widow, Bernadette Small, who travelled from London, and their four children, Peter, Tricia, David and Bill.

It might seem that society has become more accustomed to brutal killings as the last millennium ended and the new one has progressed. The methamphetamine era has produced some shocking acts of violence, and there is currently on average around one murder a week somewhere in New Zealand. This has likely led to a general desensitising among many people, other than for those close to the victim.

However, such were the circumstances of Mr Banham's slaying that it would still be a sensational case today. His killer dragged him semi-conscious from his car. He was tied up, bashed with a tyre lever and left choking to death with a noose around his neck. Such acts of violence, so random, cast the longest of shadows over those who are left behind.

That five decades - half a lifetime at least - have passed since Mr Banham was killed for the £27 in his taxi cab will probably in many ways seem unreal to those people most directly affected by it. We tend to remember the seminal events from our youth as if they were yesterday, but few people are dealt a hand so cruel as the Banhams were 50 years ago.

They did what they had to in order to survive. The family all left Nelson, "as soon as we could", his only daughter Tricia told the Mail this week. Their story reminds us that, whatever we face in life, there is in otherwise ordinary people the strength and courage to overcome the toughest of obstacles. There is also a message to make the most of each day, as we can never know what tomorrow might bring. 


The Nelson Mail