Morgan Tait

Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's consumer affairs reporter.

NZ author dies of brain haemorrhage

The New Zealand author who alleged The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown copied his work has died in England.

Nelson-born historian and father of four, Michael Baigent, suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage at a Brighton hospital on Wednesday. He was 65.

Baigent and co-author Richard Leigh lost a high-profile court case against Brown's publisher Random House in 2006, after they alleged his novel copied the "central theme" of their 1982 non-fiction work The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

Both works investigated the possibility that Jesus Christ married and had a child with Mary Magdalene and that this bloodline survives to this day.

His younger daughter Tansy, 27, told the Herald how the stress of the case took a toll on her father.

"There was a lot of stress, his partner Richard Leigh died immediately after and my father, within six months, had to have a liver transplant because he was so unwell from the trauma of the experience."

Baigent and Leigh were ordered to pay 85 per cent of Random House's legal costs, which were estimated at nearly £1.3 million ($3.7 million) at the time.

"Since then he has been living in rented accommodation because he lost all of our money and had nothing, so it's been a terrible time and a hard time.

The legal battle was something he didn't want to be remembered for but it has been such a weight, it really ripped him apart because all he was seeking was some credibility for the work he had spent so many years doing."

Baigent grew up in Nelson before studying religion and psychology at the University of Canterbury. He left New Zealand as a 21-year-old.

He spent time as a researcher in Australia, and a photographer in Southeast Asia and Madrid before settling in England in his late 20s where he began research for his book.

Baigent married Jane in 1983 and had two daughters, Isabelle, 29, and Tansy. He was also stepfather to Jane's children David, 42, and Emma, 39. Baigent went on to write 11 other books.

His daughter said the family would have a funeral and memorial service in England, but Baigent wanted his ashes to be returned to Nelson. "He had a very deep connection with New Zealand," she said.

- NZ Herald

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