9 May 2012

Urewera raids group want all charges dropped

10:26 pm on 9 May 2012

Members of the group known as the Urewera Four are looking to overturn all their convictions now that the Crown has decided not to pursue the final charge against them.

The last and most significant charge against the four was formally stayed at a hearing at the High Court in Auckland on Wednesday.

In March this year, Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey were convicted of the illegal possession of firearms and restricted weapons in Te Urewera National Park in 2007.

However, the jury could not reach a verdict on the main charge of being part of an organised criminal group.

Reasons for not proceeding on that charge included the length of time the case has already taken and the already high cost.

Urs Signer says he is speaking with his lawyer to try to overturn the firearms convictions. "In my view Operation Eight is a stuff-up of epic proportions."

Kemara's defence lawyer Jeremy Bioletti says the only reason this case was brought to trial was because the lead charge was considered so serious it justified using the illegal evidence.

Mr Bioletti says now that the lead charge has been dropped, he will look to get the firearms convictions against his client dismissed.

Tame Iti wants the whole case revisited and the firearms charges dropped.

"I want to be able to be a free man, to be still able to travel around the world without having that stigma that's been ... hanging on my back there all the time."

Iti, Kemara, Signer and Bailey will be sentenced on the firearms charges on 24 May.

Last year, charges against 14 other people were dropped after the Supreme Court ruled that the evidence was collected illegally.

Apology up to police - PM

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said the Tuhoe iwi deserves an apology from police over the raids. "Lots of families within Tuhoe suffered hugely. We still have children who are traumatised by that particular event."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says Parliament screwed up the terrorism suppression legislation and should apologise to those involved.

Mr Peters says police used the powers they believed Parliament had given them. However, he says the legislation was deficient and Parliament did not give it enough attention.

Prime Minister John Key says any apology would be up to police.

"They genuinely believed that they were dealing with a situation where there was suspected serious terrorist activity. Now, courts have failed to prove that, or disprove that, actually."

The Tuhoe settlements of Taneatua and Ruatoki were at the centre of the raids.

Tuhoe chief negotiator Tamati Kruger, who gave evidence at the trial and is a relative of Tame Iti, says that while he was overjoyed at the decision not to proceed, the saga has ruined lives.

"It brings to a conclusion a disaster that will be recorded in New Zealand history as one of the worst things that has happened between the state and its own citizens."

Mr Kruger says he wants to now turn to repairing the damage done by the four-and-a-half year ordeal.

Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara's lawyer, Jeremy Bioletti, says the decision is a tacit acknowledgement that the Crown never had a strong case on the organised criminal group charge.

Tame Iti's lawyer Russell Fairbrother says the case had changed considerably since the original charges were laid.

"I think the defence was a strong defence and it's been a huge amount of money spent on this for very little result."

The Crown's reasons for not pursuing the charge include:

  • The maximum penalty for the lead charge is five years compared to four years for the firearms convictions, so a conviction on the charge would not affect the overall sentence.
  • The accused would have a lengthy wait for a re-trial. The case has already gone on for almost five years and a re-trial would not be likely to take place until 2013.
  • Spiralling court costs, which are already in the millions.
  • The unprecedented media interest in the case which could affect the fairness of a re-trial.