New Zealand Law Society - “Something different” to law turned into major disaster inquiries

“Something different” to law turned into major disaster inquiries

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Mark Henderson
Mark Henderson

A former Mr Timaru, surfer Mark Henderson fancies being a firefighter or pursuing his childhood dream – a policeman if he was ever to give up the law.

And his plan to escape law for a couple of years thrust him into the heart of two of Britain’s worst disaster inquiries – the Paddington train crash and the Marchioness pleasure boat collision.

A partner at Corcoran French in Christchurch, Mark was recently appointed chair of NZ Law Ltd, which is now in its 27th year, with 53 law firm members. As the public face of NZ Law, he chairs a board of seven directors.

Mark Stuart (Mark) Henderson
Entry to law
Graduated B Com and LLB from Otago University.Admitted in 1997.
Partner at Corcoran French, Christchurch.
Speciality area
Civil litigation.

“I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and started off with great ambitions of doing economics. But decided it involved far too much maths, so did marketing instead. It was an add-on to law.

“I was always going to be a lawyer, commerce was a tack-on. But as a little fella I wanted to be a policeman.

“My parents knew the local superintendent in Dunedin who had a talk with me. He said his son was a policeman and doing well for himself because he had a law degree, so the superintendent told me if I wanted to do well in the police to get a law degree.”

Mark’s Dad Kerry, a teacher, and Mum Judy, who was also involved in education, are retired in Christchurch. Married to Shona, a consultant with health and lifestyle company Arbonne, the couple have three daughters - Emily (12), Mia (9) and Brooke (7).

There are no other lawyers in his family.

“My family is important and takes up much of my time out of work. Outside of that surfing and mountain biking and general fitness keep me interested.”

While in Dunedin – which he left in 1984 - Mark was a regular surfer at St Kilda and St Clair beaches and at Aramoana. “When Shona and I worked overseas from 1999 to 2004 we spent a bit of time surfing, and have surfed all over the world. I’m a social surfer, no competitions.”

Mountain biking takes him all over Christchurch, including the Port Hills, Burwood Forest and McLean’s Island. “I compete every now and again, joining races with not much more intent than getting there.

“I’m also involved with my local church, Hope Presbyterian Church, which has sites in Hornby, Rolleston and West Melton. I’m on the church board which keeps me fairly busy.”

Major public inquiries

“When I went overseas I swore black and blue I would not do law again. I always knew I would come back to it but it was to be my two years of doing something different.

“I failed miserably in that endeavour and ended up being one of the in-house lawyers for the London Fire and Emergency Planning Association, essentially the London fire brigade.

“I was there for five years from 1999 doing general litigation and public inquiry work.”

During that time Mark represented the fire brigade at two major public inquiries – the Paddington train disaster and the Marchioness pleasure steamer disaster.

Thirty-one people died and more than 400 were injured at Paddington in west London in 1999; 51 people died in August 1989, also in London, when the Marchioness was hit by a dredger.

“The inquiries need to look at the role of the emergency services so I was heavily involved acting for the fire brigade.

“When the Paddington inquiry finished I moved to the Marchioness inquiry, which was pushed for by the family of England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio.”

Dallaglio’s sister Francesca, who was 19 at the time, was one of the victims.

When Mark and Shona came home they set specific priorities. “The only reason I am in Christchurch is that Shona and I decided when we came back to New Zealand we would come to a city where we could surf and ski in the same day, so that limited places we could go.

“The main options were Tauranga and Christchurch and a job came up here so that was the answer.”

Keeping to a resolution

“I am not musical, I cannot play any instruments and you should hear me sing. I like Billy Joel.

“What I like to read and what I do read are sometimes disconnected. I like traditional spy and conspiracy novels, but pretty much grab whatever I can, with no real favourites.

“I liked British businessman and former CEO of Tesco, Terry Leahy’s book, Management in 10 Words. I made a new year’s resolution a few years ago to try and improve my life and my knowledge, so I alternated one fictional book with something else, usually management or life skill-related. I made a resolution that I kept … loosely.”

I don’t get to films so much, with family and work commitments but watch Netflix or Lightbox. I like Modern Family, The Goldbergs, Parks and Recreation and Line of Duty.

“We have a family motorhome which means for Christmas holidays we get away for an extended time - I’m usually the last one back in the office.

“We alternate between the North and South Island. Shona’s family is in Pukekohe. The motorhome takes us everywhere and anywhere. In the North Island we have been up through Northland, the east coast, west coast. And in the South Island, Golden Bay, Nelson, West Coast, Queenstown, and Wanaka.”

And, yes, Mark has been to Timaru’s famous Caroline Bay, known to locals as the Riviera of the South.

“We were staying in the camping ground, there were the usual competitions and the campers voted me Mr Timaru. There’s a photo somewhere but you can’t have it. I was six.

“Surf to me is the key. I enjoy Nelson and used to camp there as a kid, so Tahunanui Beach would be the favourite.

“We have a one-year-old Burmese Ragdoll cat called Willow, who has a great temperament and is good with kids. My first cat as a kid lived to 17.

“I drive a Toyota Prado with roof racks and can get the surf board inside as well.

“American evangelist the late Billy Graham would be an interesting dinner guest. He was around a lot of important people but was really grounded. And Mother Teresa - she did some amazing work and was a dedicated woman.

“And two other people - Shona’s great grandfather Edmund Spencer, who was around in the late 19th century. He was a landowner at Spencerville, outside Christchurch. His legacy and his son’s was to put in place Spencer Park. He wanted the opportunity for Canterbury locals to have a place to go without having to pay and have a holiday.

“The other would be my granddad Bill Fleming, who fought in World War II, rode to school on a horse, and died of cancer in the end. He and Edmund would get on well.

“We would do a barbie and have some craft beer. We have friends round quite a bit and it’s always barbie and beer. I prefer IPA mainly and am keen on Panhead and Belgian wheat beers.

Fighting for the underdog

“The work in London will always be memorable. The justice of the law and fighting for the underdog appeals to me.

“When I first started in the law one of the first cases I got to manage and instructed barrister Colin Withnall QC, in Dunedin, was Riddell v Porteous.

“It was formative in terms of me going forward. We acted for the homeowner, who had been through District Court and High Court by the time I got it and we launched off to the Court of Appeal. We were able to get justice for the homeowner. I always remembered that case.

“If I wasn’t a lawyer I would still want to have something to do with people. I have a few mates who are police officers and they always regale me with interesting stories about what they are doing.

“Or … I enjoyed my time at the fire brigade and had the opportunity to crawl through smoke infested tunnels with breathing apparatus at the training centre, and zoom up and down the Thames with the fire boat.

“Maybe a firefighter or a policeman, though at 46 I don’t think that bodes well.”

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