The first Armed Offenders Squad member to fire a shot in the line of duty has died. Graham Perry was awarded a bravery medal but his actions could as easily have got him sacked, writes Phil Taylor.
It was an era of crims who blew up safes and ran sly-grog shops and cops who took no nonsense.
Prominent among those cops was Graham Perry, an ex-navy light heavyweight boxing champion, who rose to the rank of deputy assistant commissioner.
As a young constable, Perry wasn't averse to a fist fight.
"One time in his early days on the beat, he was in Karangahape Rd and some chap gave him a bit of lip about thinking he was pretty good wearing the uniform," relates Nick Perry, the oldest of four sons.
Some toing and froing led to them "duking it out", behind the Newton police station, Perry with his jacket and helmet off and "the Irish senior sergeant hanging out the police station window saying, 'that's the way boyo, give it to him'."
It was a time when rules were regarded as malleable by those charged with upholding the law.
"I think he was respected by the criminal fraternity up in Auckland; he was probably firm but fair," says Perry junior, who rose to Assistant Police Commissioner and headed Operation Austin, the inquiry into allegations of sexual offending made by Louise Nicholas against a former Assistant Commissioner of Police and other officers.
"It was a completely different era. There were some fairly enterprising criminals. It was the days of sly-grogging, safe-blowing, and infancy as far as drugs were concerned."
Although he was hard-nosed, Perry wasn't without compassion. He took a teenage John Banks under his wing after finding him sleeping rough in the Domain, central Auckland.
Perry knew Banks' father, through their respective occupations: Archie Banks was a crook.
"I was 18," recalls John Banks, a former Cabinet minister and mayor of Auckland. "Both of my parents were in Mt Eden jail. Out of home, out of school, out of luck and living in the depths of despair.
"Late one night while sleeping in the back of my Morris 8 car in the Domain, Graham visited and said, 'There is a bed at our home for you, come and stay with us'.
"It was a profound gesture of compassion from an extraordinary man. Little did he know that 25 years later I would become the Minister of Police."
Perry joined the police in 1954 and worked mostly in Auckland where he was involved in several historic events, including the Bassett Rd machine gun murders of 1963, the Mt Eden Prison riot (1965), the civil unrest sparked by the 1981 Springbok rugby tour and the 1984 Queen St riot, which followed a concert by Dave Dobbyn's band, DD Smash.
Perry was operations commander for the Springbok test at Eden Park where All Black Gary Knight was injured by a flour bomb dropped from an aircraft trying to stop the match.
"Radio exchanges flashed between Marx Jones in the Cessna and Chief Superintendent Graham Perry on the ninth floor of the Auckland Central Police Station," wrote Geoff Chapple in his book, When the Tour came to Auckland. "Perry could see the Cessna in the distance, making its tight, two-minute circuits of the park, and he spoke by radio to Jones, pleading with the pilot to desist."
In a message to the family after Perry died peacefully, aged 88, at Winara Hospital in Waikanae, last Sunday, Stu Allsop-Smith, now a detective superintendent, recalled the strong instruction Perry gave him about the incident. "That's your man, and I wanted him convicted!"
The incident that resulted in Perry being awarded the George Medal for bravery could just as easily have seen him censured, says his son. The crucial factor may have been that the eight-hour siege involved a gunman who threatened to kill himself and his 6-month-old daughter.
Seventy-six shots were fired by the gunman who was holed up in a Whangarei house.
The single shot fired by police came from Perry, who flew in from Auckland with other members of the AOS.
"We arrived and presumed it would be a routine cordon, contain and appeal and that it would just be a matter of time before it was resolved," Perry recalled in 2014.
A loudhailer propped on the fence was peppered with bullets.
Perry changed tact after speaking to the gunman's family. "They told us what he was capable of and it was then that the whole thing turned," he told the Northern Advocate for an article headed "Hero fired first AOS shot".
An attempt to sneak in and rescue the baby was thwarted by the gunman firing a shot which passed over Perry's head.
Around dusk, Perry fired at the gunman's shoulder but hit the butt of the rifle, putting it out of action. While the gunman continued to fire at police with other weapons, Perry and two other officers went back into the house and this time Perry managed to wrestle the gun off the offender.
Perry acknowledged that he may have wandered from strict police procedure but said he acted in the best interests of the baby. "If we hadn't taken the action we did, people could have been reading headlines about how a hostage child was injured while police stood and watched."
Brave or rash? What Perry's wife thought is unclear. "Mum used to keep her opinions to herself," says Perry junior.
"Dad may well have been on a knife edge . . . initially it was thought that it wasn't necessarily the right thing to have done. Talking to some of the people who were there at the time that view changed, so I think there was a bit of an about-face by the administration.
"Instead of being cashiered, he got a medal. It can be a fine line. He did put his neck on the line but he wasn't going in by himself, there were others with him, Popa Netana and Mick Huggard."
Perry, a strong Catholic, prosecuted the promoters of the rock musical Hair in 1972 - the first prosecution of a show in New Zealand for indecency.
The show shocked with its profanity, treatment of drugs and sex, and on-stage nudity but was also seen as triumphantly heralding a more permissive time.
The audience at the opening show at His Majesty's Theatre (since demolished) in downtown Auckland included a morals campaigner, a policeman tasked with determining if it breached indecency laws and the Herald's reviewer, Ian Macdonald.
Macdonald described the show as "simply terrific . . . a joyous, irresistible experience to all but those with insoluble personal problems".
Perry testified for the prosecution, explaining at length, according to a newspaper report of proceedings, "what he saw, and what he deemed indecent, and providing some technical explanations for the benefit of jury members". The result was an acquittal. The times were indeed changing.
He was proud, says Perry junior, that two sons joined the police (Simon became a senior hostage negotiator).
"It was a major part of his life and he retained a deep interest in it. There's been a huge influx of emails and the words 'legend' and 'icon' have featured."
As well as the medal, Perry was awarded an OBE. "He appreciated, without being boastful, that we had them quite prominently displayed in his room in the rest home."
Edward Graham Perry, OBE, GM, is survived by sons Nick, Matt, Simon and Dominic, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.