On Tuesday the 21st of March a sense of excitement hung in the air as punters packed Unity Books Wellington to capacity for the launch of Nicky Hager and John Stephenson’s new book Hit & Run.
The book launch was announced on Sunday the 19th of March and the subject matter and approach of the book were kept a secret. At that point Jon Stephenson’s involvement in the book was not public knowledge. The title and subject of the book were kept quiet until the first speech of the evening, given by publisher Robbie Burton of Potton & Burton, who unveiled the cover of the book with great flair. Robbie thanked the authors and lauded their efforts to tell an important story well.
The book was revealed as Hit & Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Meaning of Honour. It is the story of two raids involving the New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan in 2010 and the events leading up to them. Hager and Stephenson claim that those raids resulted in 21 civilian casualties, including nine deaths. It is also an account of what the authors allege was a widespread and concerted effort by government to cover up the details and repercussions of those raids.
Hager and Stephenson spoke about their approach in reporting the story and how their different styles of research and writing complemented each other. Hager thanked Stephenson for being so involved in on the ground reporting in Afghanistan and digging up the stories of individuals in a foreign environment. Stephenson also thanked Hager for his careful approach to reporting systemic failures and mentioned the human element of reporting the stories of civilian fatalities.
In his speech Stephenson said that although people liked to think Hager only published books in election years, the book had been in the works for quite some time. In the post launch press conference in the lobby outside the bookshop Hager was asked whether the subject matter of the book was the reason why John Key had resigned. Hager responded immediately and categorically ‘no’.