Phone calls between three dedicated men, including Herald journalist Phil Taylor, were the catalyst for freeing an innocent man after 20 years spent behind bars. This extract, from a new book on Teina Pora's battle to overturn a miscarriage of justice, reveals the eureka moment.

If you google for news stories about Teina Pora for the decade following his second trial in 2000, there's not much to be found.

After the flurry of attention around the retrial and the unsuccessful appeal of that verdict, media interest dried up. The spotlight disappeared. Journos moved on to the next story.

Lawyers moved on to the next case. Teina Pora moved back to Spring Hill prison.

But for some, the case wasn't forgotten. There were those for whom this was a case that lingered, that niggled, that rankled. For a few people inside and outside the legal system, the verdicts against Pora remained deeply uncomfortable.

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Phil Taylor is lean, wiry, silver-haired. He has the physique and the bloody-minded tenacity of a competitive cyclist. Which is what he used to be. As a young man Phil chose staying in New Zealand and pursuing a career in journalism over going to Europe to chase a road-cycling dream.

In 2001 he was New Zealand Reporter of the Year. Later his two great passions intersected when Phil played a small but pivotal role in connecting the dots that led to the revelations about epidemic doping in competitive cycling that brought down Lance Armstrong.

In the 1990s, Phil reported on the Malcolm Rewa trials. (Private investigator) Tim McKinnell calls Phil, to follow up on some of Phil's research for those Rewa stories. Details that may or may not be relevant to the appeal Tim is building. Tim starts the phone call, "I know you didn't cover Teina Pora, you probably won't remember too much about his case but we think there's some problems - "

Phil interrupts.

Problems like Malcolm Rewa and Pora being linked as co-offenders despite coming from antagonistic rival gangs? Problems like Rewa's MO being completely a lone wolf solo sexual predator? Problems like the only DNA in the victim's room and on her person belonging to Malcolm Rewa? Those problems?

Tim has to smile. Okay, this guy doesn't muck around. And he sure remembers the case.

Phil Taylor (left) and Teina Pora. Photo / Michael Craig
Phil Taylor (left) and Teina Pora. Photo / Michael Craig

Phil digs out what he has that may be of use, delivers it to Tim. But now Phil's interest is piqued anew. Thirty years of reporting, you hear a lot of people claiming miscarriages of justice. But the Pora case always stuck out to him. The clarity of the issues. Other cases come back to the same question: "Well if he didn't do it, who did?"

That's a key difference with the Burdett murder. There's DNA. There's an alternative scenario. It's not a whodunit mystery with the solution revealed in a surprise final chapter. The bits of the puzzle are all sitting there, lying in plain sight.

And now, the case has a new broom - a new lawyer and a passionate young investigator, this driven guy who seems unafraid to turn over old rocks that no one else has been interested in looking under for a decade.

It's exciting. Phil looks at what he can do from his side, as a senior reporter for the Herald.

Phil pitches a feature story to his bosses, going over the known facts of the case, the many problems and issues. He gets a firm "no". A story about a ratbag car thief from South Auckland. Who's going to care? Who's going to read it?

At heart, Phil knows these questions from above are the right questions. Journalism is a business. They monitor the clicks on their website these days. You can see who reads what. The story he pitched was really a well-researched summary of something that could have been written in 2000. Newspapers are about new stuff. Hence the name.

Tim McKinnel. Photo / Duncan Brown
Tim McKinnel. Photo / Duncan Brown

Phil needs something new to warrant column space. Something substantial, something that comes at the story from a whole new angle.

But what?

The 1990s was a pretty extraordinary time to be a journalist following major crime in Auckland. Phil reported extensively on the two big serial rapist stories of the period - Malcolm Rewa and Joe Thompson. Between them, Rewa and Thompson were found guilty of well over 80 acts of vicious sexual violence against women. Many believe this is at best only representative of the actual number of rapes individually committed by these two men.

These are big nasty narratives, about awful crimes. But for Phil, amongst the profound dark ugliness of the serial rape stories, there was also a hero.

"I've got huge respect for Chook Henwood. He's the sort of cop you want to be a cop."

We've met Detective Sergeant Henwood before. His ground-breaking criminal profiling work contributed decisively in leading the cops to kicking in Malcolm Rewa's door in Mayflower Close.

Chook was the arresting officer for both Rewa and Thompson.

Phil got to know Chook well during his reporting on the serial rapists. Henwood has a signature handlebar moustache that makes him stand out in any crowd. Then there's his other signature, Chook's fair-mindedness and decency. He's not your cliched jaundiced copper who sees only the bad in criminals.

Phil remembers talking to Chook about policing in Counties Manukau, how Phil felt police would surely want to live in another part of town to get a break, to separate their private lives a bit. Chook disagreed. Young cops should live in South Auckland, to see the overwhelming good in the community. To avoid some warped view of Polynesians as criminals.

Phil remembers something else Chook said, when he was testifying at Malcolm Rewa's first trial for Susan Burdett's rape and murder. Discussing the idea that there were others present when the crimes took place, Chook said in court - "If indeed there were other offenders there".

Dave Henwood. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Dave Henwood. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It was a strong hint that maybe Chook didn't believe there was anyone else in Susan Burdett's room, other than Malcolm Rewa.

Phil picks up the phone. He calls Chook Henwood.

Phil Taylor would never describe himself as a crusader. He's a very talented investigative journalist who does a job. Sometimes that job involves filling up centimetres of column space. Other times it's much more than that. "If I can do two or three topics in a year that I think is good work and important, that's enough to keep me going."

There's a quote about his job that Phil likes. "Good journalism empowers the powerless against the powerful." That's when journalism gets rewarding. When you put stories out into the public domain that people or organisations don't want out there. When you shine a spotlight on someone who the system has worked against. When you're alerting the readers, maybe the comfortable middle class who might think otherwise - "Hey, the system might not be perfect, guys, and maybe there are things we should be feeling uncomfortable about."

When Phil talks to Chook he's looking for a new angle on the Teina Pora story. Though officially retired, Henwood is still employed as an unsworn officer by the New Zealand police. Phil fully expects that Chook will be reserved, self-censoring, guarded. A subtle hint or two. If he's lucky, maybe a lead that Phil could then try to tease into a story.

But Phil gets much more than that.

On Saturday May 19, 2012, a photo of Susan Burdett is once again in the New Zealand Herald. The headline and first paragraph read: 'Innocent man' in jail 20 years.

You've got a joker [Rewa] who is not convicted of murdering Susan Burdett who did murder her, and the reason he is not convicted of it is because Pora is in the road.

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"An innocent man has spent almost 20 years in jail for one of New Zealand's most notorious cases of rape and murder, says a detective with expert knowledge of the crime."

Chook is convinced the police got the wrong man. In his opinion, "Rewa committed the crime alone and Pora was innocent."

He goes on to describe why he believes Rewa was never convicted of the murder of Susan Burdett - precisely because someone else had already been wrongly convicted of the crime. "You've got a joker [Rewa] who is not convicted of murdering Susan Burdett who did murder her, and the reason he is not convicted of it is because Pora is in the road."

Journalism is about lining up your ducks. Getting your facts right, getting to the right sources. But it's also about getting your timing right.

Ten years ago Chook Henwood held all these same views. But as a sworn officer he could never talk publicly back then.

Even so, when Phil called, it wasn't a simple decision. Chook wasn't a shaken-up bottle of fizz just waiting for the cap to come off.

Teina Pora after training with friend Steve Hodge on the rooftop of his Karangahape Road apartment. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Teina Pora after training with friend Steve Hodge on the rooftop of his Karangahape Road apartment. Photo / Jason Oxenham

But the timing sure helped. The very day Phil called him, Chook had just attended the official opening of the new Ormiston Rd police station. The bigwigs were there in force, the Police Minister, lots of fine talk about protecting the innocent, calling the guilty to task. Then within an hour or two, Phil Taylor phones to ask Chook about Teina Pora.

There's a moment or two of umming and ahhing. There's no dodging it, even as an unsworn officer, if Chook speaks his mind there's going to be serious flak.

Then Chook thinks - "bugger it".

Protecting the innocent. Calling the guilty to task. Chook decides it's time to say exactly what he thinks.

The story has immediate impact.

A multi award-winning detective with the most intimate inside knowledge of Malcolm Rewa, his psychology and his offending, speaking out without reservation about the verdict that has haunted him for well over a decade.

One of New Zealand's most respected cops, saying the cops got this one terribly, horribly wrong - and as a result, a man has lost nearly 20 years of his life, and counting.

Chook Henwood's categorical, honest statements take Phil's story straight to the front page.

"It's one that has stuck in the craw," Dave Henwood said.

"There's no doubts in my mind."

After a decade of being a forgotten footnote in the history of New Zealand crime, the name Teina Pora is back in the public consciousness.

In Dark Places. Photo / Michael Craig
In Dark Places. Photo / Michael Craig

In Dark Places: The confessions of Teina Pora and an ex-cop's fight for justice, by Michael Bennett, $34.99, Paul Little Books. Available now from bookstores or paullittlebooks.co.nz