* John Hughes. Policeman, athlete. Died aged 73

Back in 1976 Detective Senior Sergeant John Hughes of the Auckland CIB robbery squad smashed Max Telford's Auckland to Hamilton road race record by 32m 1s.

The 43-year-old finished in 9h 58m 1s. The "new long-distance running star" was promptly declared the Herald's Sports Star of the Week.

In fact this triumph was just another step in a life which saw Hughes become one of the country's best and toughest policemen and a runner of great physical and mental strength.

He began serious running only at 40. Before that he had a 137-bout amateur boxing career including three New Zealand light-middleweight titles.

In 1981 he took more than a day off the Sydney to Melbourne run record - 864km in 7 days, 9h 47m.

In a police career spanning 32 years, Detective Inspector Hughes worked on more than 40 murder cases, for which he acquired a reputation for unrelenting investigation. As a young detective in the 1960s he visited the scene of the Bassett Rd machine-gun murder in Auckland.

He headed Operation Stockholm, the investigation into the murders of Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen in 1989, one of the biggest and most expensive investigations in New Zealand police history. And he tracked down the two men eventually convicted of shooting Northcote motelier Rex Bell.

Hughes started as a constable on station duty at the Wharf Police in Auckland, already toughened into a no-nonsense man by eight years in the Royal New Zealand Navy.

Later he was running the Auckland regional crime squad. When bank robberies proliferated in Auckland his team became the robbery squad. Armed robberies in the city nosedived.

Criminals, drugs, weapons, prostitution, violence and informers were a daily part of Hughes' life for years. He handled them all with a vigour and ruthlessness that made some colleagues blanch. From time to time superiors hauled him over the coals for particular tactics.

But as a fellow detective once put it: "There are some heavy, bad hoods out there who respect him to the point of fear."

On his retirement in 1992 Hughes was somewhat less than specific to the Herald about some of his methods, although he noted dryly that some criminals did not respond to tea and cucumber sandwiches. And with his boxing background he noted flatly: "Only twice in 32 years was I assaulted - and both regretted it very much and promised they would never do it again."

One of the Operation Stockholm team recalled: "He is a professional who expects 105 per cent from his troops and gets it every time. He really looks after his team. If you're prepared to work for him, he'll look after you ... If you're not, you have a major problem."

But there were other sides to John Hughes. In 1989 during the long search for the bodies of the two Swedish tourists in the Coromandel bush, he received a call from his 4-year-old granddaughter Cherie: "Grandad - my horse won."

Cherie's Pride, named for the granddaughter and bred by John Hughes and his wife, came home at odds of 56-1. But he never had time to put a bet on.

After leaving the police, Hughes had a notable career as a private investigator, including the Powdergate milk powder export scandal.

John Hughes died of cancer.

He is survived by his wife Mavis and children, Michele, Craig and Joanne.