That whole sad issue of John Campbell's faked interview last October with the so-called medals thief, "Robert", who was actually a disguised actor, is coming back to haunt TV3 badly. Now the police want Campbell, Carol Hirschfeld and others working on Campbell Live to tell them the criminal's name. TV3 is resisting. The police have made an application to the High Court to compel Campbell and his colleagues to reveal the identity of the man who made the confession.

That so-called interview, that piece of deceptive play-acting, continues to niggle at me. So much of it was not right. Things did not add up. What bothered many of us who have spent large sections of our lives in the question-asking business, was the nature of the questions Campbell asked. They did not seem to me to be the questions of a journalist.

Campbell is a very competent, trained journalist who knows how to ask current affairs questions and has been asking them for a long time. The questions that went to air that night were not current affairs questions. They were, instead, and I have always thought this, the questions of a lawyer trying to make a client look good. The questions asked (see below) were not just super soft. They were, I believe, the questions that would be asked by a lawyer interviewing his client in such a way that the totality of the client's answers would become a plea in mitigation. Leave aside the criminal we saw was not actually the criminal himself, but the answers the so-called medals thief gave seemed designed to make himself seem a reasonable chap who was greatly relieved the medals were back in the right hands.

What I am saying is, it might be possible that Campbell and his colleagues never met or even got near the man himself. I think it is possible the man's lawyer asked those questions of the criminal himself, recorded the interview on tape and gave the tape to Campbell Live. I think it is possible Campbell Live transcribed that tape and using the lawyer's original questions and the criminal's answers, created a fake "interview".

After all, what lawyer would put his client, confessing to a crime that outraged the nation, the theft of our crown jewels, historic medals won through acts of immense bravery in the heat of battle, medals presented to and worn by the legendary men who earned them, in front of someone like John Campbell? What lawyer would do that before even an arrest and a trial? What lawyer would take that risk? Lawyers do not do this.

Meaning, I think it is possible Campbell cannot reveal the man's name because he does not know it and because he never met him. For Campbell to admit that he does not know the name would further strain his credibility. It is possible he and his team received such assurance from the man's persuasive lawyer that his client was indeed one of the medal thieves they felt they could go with the lawyer's taped interview. They would have tried hard to get the man himself to speak to Campbell, of course, but they may have settled late in the day for second best. Remember, Campbell told us during TV3 News they were desperately editing the thing right up to deadline.

Deadlines are daunting, and I've made the wrong calls under pressure. Once, I went north in a helicopter for an interview that I should have bailed out of. The Parnell Panther, the notorious rapist, having served a long jail sentence, had been released. His one journalist contact was a woman print reporter who had, I think, smuggled a tape-recorder into jail to interview him. He wanted her there when I did the interview on camera. When we got to the town he hemmed and hawed all afternoon about whether he was even going to allow me to speak to him. The day was getting long, I had to deliver, we were counting on the interview for that night's programme and we had paid for the chopper ...

He played me. Prison power play. Finally, he agreed to speak. But I would have to ask the question, then the woman reporter would repeat it to him and he would answer. It was absurd. I was sitting two metres metres from him. I should never have agreed. I should have flown back to Auckland. But that would have been a failure to deliver. The interview went to air minus the woman's questions.

In the Waiouru case, we have the additional issue of the reward money. We have been told some of it has been paid. To whom I wonder? This brings us to the question of whether John Campbell was used. Was the medal thief's lawyer able to negotiate a reward deal on the basis the medals were back and his man had done a mea culpa interview in the news media? In which case, did one of those who broke into the Waiouru Museum, smashed the cabinets and stole those glorious medals benefit financially? But none of this is the issue facing TV3 now. Should John Campbell tell the police the name of the medal thief, if he knows it? Answer: a clear yes.

Of course, TV3 will stand behind the important privilege of the news media protecting a source. But if this man did as he said he did, then he is a despicable, serious criminal, a plunderer of national treasure. This is the nature of the man Campbell and his channel are protecting. This is not a whistle blower who revealed how the Paraquat got into the school milk. This is the man who put the Paraquat into the school milk. This is not a whistle blower who told how the medals were stolen. This is the man who, with his collaborators, did the crime and stole 96 priceless medals owned by the nation. This man is a big-time criminal. For there to be safe justice, the police believe they need his name.

I am sorry if it means Campbell and his team have to break a promise. In my opinion it is a promise that should never have been made. We all have to make promises from time to time in order to get the big interviews, usually in terms of areas of discussion to leave alone, but we have to be careful they are promises we can keep. It is always a tough one for the news media, how far you go protecting a source. It is a privilege that was hard-earned and is well-guarded. But this man, this name, is one bridge too far.

There may, however, be one other factor, if Campbell and his team know the man's name. Such is the seriousness and ruthlessness of the man's criminal fraternity, Campbell and his colleagues might be in harm's way if they spill the beans. But it is a risk that TV3 may have to take.

As it stands, though, the so-called interview with John Campbell may simply have been a very clever ploy by a defence lawyer to put a criminal beyond justice.

At the moment, it appears to be working. In my opinion it must not be allowed to.

* Campbell Live extract; interview with a thief
How difficult has it been, to go through the process of pinching these things, having these things, and then returning these things?

It was long and lengthy. We were always worried about the police not playing by the rules, or trying to catch us, all that sort of thing. But in the end I'm happy with the result. I mean, you know, they were returned, everyone's happy. One thing everyone's happy, especially the families. That's another thing I'd like to say. I didn't, mean, want to distress the families, especially of the soldiers that earned these medals. Yeah, we just wanted to make sure the police didn't catch us and that was it.

Do you regret doing this now?



Because, I suppose, because of the public outcry.

Do you also regret it because the men who won these medals risked their lives and in some cases lost their lives fighting true evil?

Yeah. Most definitely.

So why did you pick these medals in the first place?

It was a combination of things. I think because they're valuable and they have a lot of sentimental value, and they're important to New Zealanders ...

Why are you talking to me today? What made you come to us?

The main reason is, as I said through Chris Comeskey, I just want to say sorry to everyone in New Zealand. I think we all regret what happened, and I'm just happy we got them back in pristine condition so everyone's happy, I hope ...

When you gave the medals back, when they were finally gone from your possession, what was that feeling like then?

Well, everything was finally all over.

So you felt relief?


And since then, what's it been like reading and seeing and hearing the media coverage and thinking to yourself, you know, 'Gosh, in part they're talking about me'?

It has been difficult. At first I didn't want to say anything. You know, I had been waiting, to keep quiet, and I kept thinking, am I doing the right thing, am I doing the wrong thing? But I suppose in a way I just want to get my side of the story across.

Which is what?

Well, we made a big mistake, and we regret it, and we're just glad that everybody's got them back.