P cook Peter Francis Atkinson will be nearly 80 before he can be released from prison, as judge describes his "troubling" criminal history.

A feared criminal nicknamed "Pete the Terrorist" will be nearly 80 before he can be released from prison.

Peter Francis Atkinson was this week sentenced to 17 years in jail when he appeared in the High Court at Auckland. He was earlier convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine and attempting to manufacture the Class-A drug.

He cooked at least 1kg of P for members of the Head Hunters gang, as an "independent contractor", in April 2015.

Well past retirement age, Atkinson was identified in Operation Sylvester, which targeted senior Head Hunter William "Bird" Hines.

William Hines was jailed for 18 years as the
William Hines was jailed for 18 years as the "boss" of the Head Hunter drug ring. Photo/Supplied.

As the ringleader, Hines was also sentenced this week, to 18 years in prison.

But as the P cook, Justice Mathew Downs said Atkinson's "expertise was integral to the operation's success".

"You are 72 years old. By your age even the most hardened offenders have stopped committing crime," said Justice Downs.

"You are exceptional."

Atkinson has serious drug convictions dating back to 1981, including a jail term in 2000 after becoming one of New Zealand's first - and best - P cooks.

"Your record in relation to controlled drugs is, as the Court of Appeal has described, very bad, indeed, troubling," said Justice Downs, who increased Atkinson's sentence by 12 months to 17 years because of his criminal history.

Describing Atkinson as a "professional criminal", Crown prosecutor Bruce Northwood asked for Atkinson to serve at least half of the sentence before being eligible for parole.

His lawyer Martin Hislop suggested this wasn't necessary as Atkinson was "running out of steam".

"Regrettably, there is no evidence to suggest that is correct," said Justice Downs.

"You are an exceptional offender whose longevity has not diminished your appetite for serious drugs offending."

But because of Atkinson's advanced years, Justice Downs ruled he must serve at least seven years - or 41 per cent - of the sentence.

This means he will be eligible for parole when he is 79.

The career criminal first made headlines in 1981.

Addicted to heroin, Atkinson was convicted for possession of the drug for supply when he received 130g smuggled into Tauranga on a ship.

Atkinson, who told police he would later deny saying anything, said he was asked to pick up the heroin for men in Auckland.

"You know what would happen," Atkinson said, if he revealed their names.

He was jailed for six years; the crime probably the tamest on his record.

He graduated to armed robberies, like his close friend Leslie Maurice Green, brandishing a Magnum pistol and even firing warning shots at police officers who gave chase.

This put him in the frame for the infamous Red Fox Tavern murder of publican Chris Bush in 1987.

Atkinson was cleared of any involvement and the cold case remains unsolved.

But investigating officers discovered his role in a bungled drug-smuggling operation set up by Auckland lawyer Ashok Patel.

All of those involved either wanted morphine to feed their drug addictions, or to clear debt owed to Patel for legal representation.

Atkinson's wife travelled with Patel to India to bring back the drugs, as she knew what morphine felt like, but the lawyer mistakenly bought heroin with a street value of $2 million.

For his role, Atkinson was jailed for three and half years - although he was already serving time for the armed robberies, including one where he disguised himself with a Santa Claus mask.

Around this time Atkinson earned his "Pete the Terrorist" tag.

He blew up a Mercedes-Benz belonging to leading Auckland lawyer Christopher Harder, by placing a stick of dynamite on the back wheel.

In a separate arson, Atkinson torched the Remuera home of Peter Williams QC - ringing the doorbell to alert anyone who might be home so they could escape.

Then there was the strange death of his friend David Phillip Wilkins in 1987.

It was treated as suspicious but Atkinson was convicted only of offering an indignity to a body.

Wilkins had been staying at the Whitford home of Atkinson and his wife.

The couple returned home to find Wilkins dead, with a chloroform-soaked rag over his face.

Atkinson did not want to attract unwanted attention from the police, so hid the body under his house for three days before burying him at the local rubbish tip.

When spoken to by police, Atkinson told them everything and showed them where to find the body.

For the terror-style attacks, the buried body and numerous armed robberies, Atkinson was jailed for 13 years.

Prison was where Atkinson mixed and mingled with some of New Zealand's worst criminals.

And after his release in 1997, they went into business together.

A new drug was on the scene - methamphetamine - and Atkinson quickly became one of the best P cooks in the country.

It was the beginning of the P epidemic in New Zealand and rival motorcycle gangs put aside rivalries to make money.

Atkinson teamed up with Kelly Raymond Robertson, a Highway 61 member, and James Henry Wilson, president of the Filthy Few, to run mobile meth laboratories.

Both gang leaders would go on to kill.

Robertson was jailed for the manslaughter of Kevin Weavers, a Highway 61 president. "Little Willie" Wilson is still in prison for the execution-style murder of his girlfriend.

Their lucrative business unravelled because of covert police surveillance and the courage of a sex worker who testified against them.

She was placed into the witness protection programme.

As the ringleader, Atkinson was convicted of manufacturing and jailed in 1999 for 12 years.

He was described as sitting in the top tier of New Zealand's criminal fraternity.

"Pete is one of the last old-school villains," says one source. "He is the last of a dying breed. He doesn't know any other way."