Novelist Dame Fiona Kidman is calling for a convicted murderer's crime of more than 60 years ago to be downgraded to manslaughter.

She says that after researching and writing a novel about Albert Black fatally stabbing Alan Jacques in the notorious "jukebox" killing at a cafe on Auckland's Queen St, she is convinced the killer didn't get a fair trial.

"He was clearly guilty of manslaughter, in my view. But I don't think he murdered Alan Jacques. I think that he acted in self-defence."

Black was hanged at the old Mt Eden jail in December 1955.

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Alan Jacques, also known as Johnny McBride, was fatally stabbed by Albert Lawrence Black at the Ye Olde Barn cafe in Queen Street, Auckland in 1955.
Alan Jacques, also known as Johnny McBride, was fatally stabbed by Albert Lawrence Black at the Ye Olde Barn cafe in Queen Street, Auckland in 1955.

Kidman, whose new book This Mortal Boy is released today, wants the case to be considered by the commission being set up by the Government to investigate miscarriages of justice.

She believes reclassifying the crime as manslaughter may help the descendants of Albert Lawrence "Paddy" Black. He fathered a girl who was born three months after his execution at Auckland's old Mt Eden jail in 1955.

Kidman is protecting the daughter's identity, but says the woman has supported the book project. And she knows of Kidman's approach to Justice Minister Andrew Little.

Black had shifted to New Zealand from Northern Ireland, living and working first in Wellington, before moving to Auckland. He became live-in caretaker at 105 Wellesley St, a boarding house near Nelson St.

Dame Fiona Kidman, author of This Mortal Boy, at her Wellington home. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Dame Fiona Kidman, author of This Mortal Boy, at her Wellington home. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Parties were often held there and Black would socialise at city pubs and Ye Olde Barn cafe in Queen St.

Jacques, 19, moved in similar circles and stayed at Black's place for some time, although they quarrelled and Black told him to leave. A seaman, Jacques had moved to New Zealand in his teens with his younger sisters as British child immigrants.

He adopted the name Johnny McBride from the central, violent character in the crime novel, The Long Wait, by American author Mickey Spillane.

Black, 20, and Jacques clashed over a 16-year-old girl at a 105 Wellesley St party in July 1955. Black came off worst in the ensuing fight. He told the girl he would kill Jacques.

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The next evening both men were at the cafe. While Jacques was leaning over the jukebox, Black stabbed him in the neck. Jacques collapsed and bled profusely; he died soon after in Auckland Hospital.

At his trial, Black said he had feared Jacques would assault him. He claimed provocation and self defence, explaining Jacques had insulted and punched him at the cafe - assertions that were not borne out in other evidence. He said he didn't intend to kill and his lawyer said the stabbing blow was a "fluke shot".

A novelist wants the conviction of Albert Lawrence Black for murder downgraded to manslaughter. Photo / Herald archives
A novelist wants the conviction of Albert Lawrence Black for murder downgraded to manslaughter. Photo / Herald archives

Kidman said when she decided to write the book, she hadn't expected to end by believing Black innocent of murder. She noted he had been sick for two weeks, was badly beaten up and had been drinking before he went to the cafe.

Her research for the novel included speaking with a witness who wasn't interviewed by the police.

Richard Douglas, 83, a Paeroa grandfather who was a friend of Black's, told the Herald on Sunday he was in the cafe on the evening of the stabbing, which he said was linked to the jukebox.

"Paddy loved Slim Whitman - Oh Danny Boy - him being Irish. He used to put this on every night we'd go there. Johnny [Jacques] overrode it [by selecting a different song]. This went on for a couple of nights; eventually Paddy got a bit pissed off.

"He picked up the knife off the table and stabbed him just below the neck. He fell backwards on to the knife, which did the actual deed. He was provoked into it, goaded into it."

Douglas believed the police didn't interview him because he and his friends were teddy boys (young people with a rebellious streak - distinctively dressed in stove-pipe trousers).

"They told us to bugger off, so we did. They wouldn't have believed us. We were all British seamen."

• READ MORE: Haunted by the Jukebox Killer

Detective Senior Sergeant Warren Olsson said the case files showed a number of other witnesses had been interviewed.

"There's no evidence to corroborate the provocation aspect. A number of witnesses were called who gave evidence it was unprovoked."

Justice Minister Andrew Little's spokeswoman said details of the criminal cases review commission, to be established by next April, would be released at a conference in August, but he would not comment on individual cases.

Kidman argues Black didn't get a fair trial, partly because of a moral panic in the 1950s over juvenile delinquency.

She also highlights the reported comments of the trial judge, Justice Finlay, in a preliminary hearing at which a grand jury decided there was a case for Black to answer. The preliminary hearing was on the same day the trial started.

Although Black wasn't named, Finlay referred to the Queen St restaurant stabbing and said the "offender" belonged to a "peculiar sect" - possibly a reference to teddy boys - and that it was "unfortunate that we got him from his homeland".

"It is a case of apparently deliberate stabbing … there seems to be no opening of either provocation or self-defence, or any of the defences usually presented in a case of this kind."

The comments were published in the Auckland Star and the Herald, copies of which were given to the trial's jurors at their hotel. Black's lawyers took this up with the Court of Appeal.

That court noted Finlay's comments "might have created a prejudice in the mind of the reader" but also said if that had happened to the trial's jurors: "We cannot think that the jury … allowed that prejudice to enter into their deliberations."


The cover of Fiona Kidman's new novel

Kidman's book also takes the reader to Northern Ireland, where Black's bewildered mother campaigned for him, organising a 12,000-signature petition to save his life, but was ultimately batted away by the New Zealand Government.

She said the 1955 Justice Minister, Jack Marshall, blocked Black's mother from coming to New Zealand.

Only months earlier, Marshall had had to contend with another distraught British mother pleading for mercy for her condemned son. Frederick Foster was hanged - for a Queen St murder - 19 days before Black swung his knife.

Black was the second to last person to be executed in New Zealand. The death sentence was abolished in 1961 for murder and for the remaining capital crime, treason, in 1989.

Kidman said a reporter's eyewitness account of Black's death, published in Truth, was so harrowing that a "tide of revulsion against the death penalty" overtook New Zealand.

"He becomes a sort of historical figure."