Opinion: Fournier and the turbulent 1990s

Lawyer Tim Fournier. Photo: Martin Hunter
Lawyer Tim Fournier. Photo: Martin Hunter
The untimely death of lawyer Tim Fournier has rekindled a period of Christchurch's criminal history - the turbulent early 1990s.

Fournier, who died from a fall in his office, was defence lawyer for Neil Raymond Swain, in my view the closest thing to an urban terrorist we have seen - the March 15 mosque attacks aside.

He was the key figure in a reign of terror in Christchurch, almost certainly prompted by the police investigation into a gang at the time - the Harrises. Fournier was also a defence lawyer for members of the gang when they came before the courts on other matters.

Police were never able to prove Swain carried out his crimes for, or as, a result of the crackdown. He lived by the code of Omerta - the Mafia word for silence.

His crimes included the nail bombing of the Sydenham police station, torching a prosecution witness's house and breaking into a policeman's house and trying to burn it down.

Fournier defended Swain admirably but the weight of evidence was against him: Electoral rolls with the names of police and other potential targets were found in a lock up he had hired, he made notes and drew maps and collected information, all which fell into the hands of the police when he was arrested.

The case got huge publicity at the time.

The bombing of the police station may well have been the start of a long terror campaign if Swain had not have been arrested - and that was by chance.

He and another armed co-offender (who has never been identified) tried to hold up the Ferrymead Tavern late one night. But they were thwarted by a staff member who locked the door when she saw them coming.

Swain and his co-offender ran, but Swain had an injured leg and surrendered to a policeman dispatched to the area. The other robber got away.

That arrest led police to a rented lock-up in Upper Riccarton where nine sticks of gelignite, detonators, detonator cord and vehicles were found. Two sticks of gelignite had been partly prepared as an explosive device.

It was the breakthrough they desperately needed. There was almost an air of panic coming from the central police station in Hereford St - particualrly after an abanonded vehicle carrying stolen from a mining site on the West Coast had crashed en route to Christchurch.

Police were aware that other explosives had made it safely to Christchurch - what was to have been their use?

When Swain was sentenced, with Fournier nearby, almost all of the Christchurch CIB was there to see him sent down. He was jailed for 12 years.

A complex character, he lived two lives. He held a steady job and was regarded as a top worker by his boss. There was nothing to alert those close to him what he was up to. scene.

He also had a sense of fair play - at times.

When he set the prosecution witness's house on fire, she told him her dog was in the house. (Swain and his still unidentified co-offender had taken the woman and her partner out at gunpoint).

He went back into the burning house and rescued the dog.

* Swain was paroled after serving five and a half years. He is currently back in prison, serving a life sentence for the murder of a man in the North Island in 2015. As he was sent down he addressed the judge: "Well your honour, for once I am innocent but found guilty..."






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