David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

David Fisher: Defendant brushes off mud and says not guilty

John Banks in the dock yesterday. Photo / Brett Phibbs
John Banks in the dock yesterday. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The accused stood in the dock. Chin up, shoulders back, John Archibald Banks, of Remuera, faced the court.

"Not guilty," said the MP for Epsom, two-time Auckland City mayor, former Cabinet minister, businessman and talkback host.

Banks had never looked so short. There, in the dock at the High Court in Auckland, he looked foreign in his surrounds. He had lived his life in defiance of his father Archie's criminal legacy and here he was, in the twilight of his career, accused in court of doing wrong.

His rejection of the charges came without his usual staccato rat-a-tat-tat verbal machine gunning. He denied the charges quietly.

After entering a plea, Justice Edwin Wylie freed him to enter the body of the court, where he took a seat behind his lawyers.

There he sat. He shuffled a file-stand, pursed his lips and stared into space. When Crown lawyer Paul Dacre, QC, stood to outline the prosecution, Banks shuffled his chair to the right so he could see the judge - or vice versa - and shuffled the file-stand again.

And he sat. A stony demeanour settled across his features. He looked at the ceiling, he looked at the wall. He looked to many other places as Mr Dacre put the prosecution's claim that he had knowingly filed a false electoral return.

A total of 26 people packed into the public gallery to watch. It was at capacity, but for a political career which spanned so much, 26 people is a thin crowd.

Banks had arrived resplendent, crisply attired in a fine dark suit and a pink shirt. The sky was blue, the sun bright - the bucket of mud hurled across him was rich and wet.

It was initially inaccurately described as manure. Reporters bent low and sniffed hard, noses low to the ground, then downgraded it to "compost" then "mud".

"I think it's disgraceful," said former Act MP John Boscawen, one of a cluster who arrived to support Banks. In one photograph, Mr Boscawen appears poised, as if to leap before his mate to take the bucket.

It was a splatter-fest. Banks' pink became brown and the muck slopped down his suit. The start of the trial was postponed 90 minutes so he could change.

Perpetual protester Penny Bright had a front row view of the attack. She had been evicted from council meetings by Banks and couldn't contain her glee. "It has a karmic feeling to it," she crowed.

Assailant Castislav Sam Bracanov, 77, claimed to be upset over something Banks had said on Radio Pacific in 1997. He hung about chatting to court security before wandering off, but was picked up later. Police asked Banks if he wanted to press charges. "I said 'no, of course not'," Banks told the Herald. "It goes with the territory."

Inside the court, the exhumation of Banks' 2010 SuperCity campaign was well under way by the close of the day.

In a dire day, a Titan emerged. Banks' campaign treasurer Lance Hutchison was Atlas, carrying on his back the finances of the thwarted campaign. He's a bank manager, youth mentor, Justice of the Peace, founder and chairman of the Life Education Trust - and the person who prepared the crucial electoral return for Banks containing the Dotcom and SkyCity donations in question.

Mr Hutchison spoke of working on campaign finances from 8pm through to 2am before rising about 4am-5am for another day of good works. All that effort culminated in the electoral return. Filing it was the final act of the failed campaign and he described flicking through the document for the benefit of Banks, who then signed it as true and correct.

He recalled how there would have been no chance of reading the detail. But he did recall how Banks saw the figure for total donations.

The would-be mayor, trounced by incumbent Len Brown, looked at it and said: "We raised nearly a million dollars. What a waste of money."

- NZ Herald

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