September 2009, Teina Pora is serving his 15th year of a life sentence in Spring Hill prison for murder and rape.

That month he is visited by a Hawke's Bay private investigator and former detective, who along with two Bay lawyers, begin scrutinising the evidence that incarcerated the "vulnerable" teenager.

A promise was made by the legal trio to "see it through to the end" and free the man they believed was wrongly pronounced guilty of a brutal crime.

That promise was kept last Tuesday when one the the world's "big three courts", the Privy Council in London, upheld Mr Pora's appeal and quashed his convictions for the 1992 rape and murder of Susan Burdett.

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His Hawke's Bay team, including lawyers Jonathan Krebs and Ingrid Squire, of Gifford Devine, and private investigator Tim McKinnel were still coming to terms with the enormous legal and moral victory which began five-and-a-half-years ago.

About three weeks after Mr McKinnel visited Mr Pora in prison, Mr Krebs, a Hawke's Bay defence lawyer, received a phone call from an old friend.

"[Mr McKinnel] told me that he had this case, and I remembered the name from when I was working for the Crown," Mr Krebs told Hawke's Bay Today in Napier yesterday.

"He told me it was worth investigating and that there had been a miscarriage of justice, and did I want to be involved."

Warned it would be a long road and there "probably wouldn't be any money in it", Mr Krebs, a barrister for three years at the time, decided to take on the case that had generated a "degree of disquiet" within the community and police.

"Before the first trial even happened there were arguments that went to the Court of Appeal on a pre-trial basis."

In 1994, Mr Pora was convicted as a party to the rape and murder of Ms Burdett, a 39-year-old accounts clerk, who was killed in her south Auckland home on March 23, 1992. The conviction was based on confessions he had made when interviewed by police.

Mr Krebs said it was immediately clear when reading and watching the confessions that they were "all over the place".

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"When Mr Pora described, I think I counted nine or ten different versions, of how he entered the property ... that was one of many examples of somebody describing something that they were not part of."

The team obtained the opinion of a forensic psychologist in London, Professor Gisli Gudjonsson, who had made a career out of analysing confessions and identifying the similarities and personalities of people who had made false confessions

"He was firmly of the view that this confession was unreliable," Mr Krebs said.

"The first trial against Teina was largely granted on his confession and nothing else. But by the time of the second trial, of course Mr Rewa had been identified as the rapist, and so the police went to look for evidence to fund their argument that Teina and Rewa were associates."

In 1998, serial rapist Malcolm Rewa was convicted of the rape of Ms Burdett but two juries failed to reach a verdict on murder.

After appealing to the Court of Appeal, Mr Pora had his murder and rape convictions quashed in 1999, after DNA evidence implicated Rewa and showed he had acted alone.

However in 2000, Mr Pora was again convicted during a retrial, based again on his confessions and witnesses, some of whom were later revealed to have been paid by the Crown.

A second appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed.

The case went dormant until 2009, when Hawke's Bay trio set out "to right, what appeared to be at the stage, a wrong".

Despite speculation that Rewa has been the guilty man from the beginning, Mr Krebs was careful not to prejudice any further inquiry into Rewa.

"I know that's a question that you would love me to answer," he said.

"What I can say is this; we advanced the case against Teina on the basis that Rewa has already been convicted of Susan Burdett's rape.

"Their Lordships, in their [Privy Council] decision, effectively said beyond doubt that the rape and the homicide occurred at the same time. If in fact Mr Rewa was the only person there, then that's the answer."

Before the Privy Council judgment was released, Mr Pora's team travelled to Auckland to be with him and his supporters, including Mr Pora's daughter, Channelle Bennett, grandson Benson and his wife Winnie.

"We sat over looking the Auckland harbour, and we told him. Tim told him, it was appropriate that had the opportunity to break that news ... it was an incredibly poignant moment."

Delivering the decision, Lord Kerr said evidence from two medical experts concluded Mr Pora suffered from a form of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder - and in their opinion could explain why he made false confessions.

The condition meant Mr Pora would have had a very low IQ - that of a child's - when he was interviewed by police about Ms Burdett's murder.

Mr Krebs said it was impossible to describe the level of satisfaction in achieving the victory for Mr Pora.

"It is certainly the highlight of my career to date, I can't imagine how it could possibly be topped."

There are about four more weeks for both counsels to submit to the Court of Appeal, but Mr Krebs said "what we want is to make sure there is no third trial".

He said it was too early to talk about compensation or a Crown apology for Mr Pora.

"We promised Teina at the outset that we would see it through to the end regardless and that's what we've done."

- The world's big three courts are considered to be the US Supreme Court, International Court of Justice and the Privy Council.