22 May 2013

IPCA criticises illegal searches during Urewera raids

9:24 pm on 22 May 2013

A landmark report has heavily criticised police for illegally searching and detaining people, and for setting up unlawful roadblocks, during the Urewera raids in October 2007.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) on Wednesday released the findings of its investigation of the case and made a series of recommendations for change.

Judge Sir David Carruthers.

Judge Sir David Carruthers. Photo: RNZ

The authority said it received multiple complaints about 'Operation Eight' which began in late 2005 and ended on 15 October 2007 with the coordinated execution of 41 search warrants throughout the country and the establishment of road blocks at Ruatoki and Taneatua in eastern Bay of Plenty.

The authority has found that, as a whole, the operation was reasonable and necessary but also faults police for several shortcomings.

Authority chairman Judge Sir David Carruthers says the IPCA scrutinised police actions at 11 properties that were searched after people from three different addresses complained that they and others had been personally searched.

"Police had no justification for personally searching occupants, and these searches were unlawful. The detention of the occupants at five properties examined by the authority was also unlawful, unjustified and unreasonable."

Judge Carruthers finds fault with the police for leading people to believe that they were being detained and also criticised what he calls deficient planning for roadblocks set up in Ruatoki and Taneatua.

He says photographs were taken of 66 drivers, 15 passengers and some children, which left people feeling degraded and intimidated.

"It also added to people's fear and anxiety. Police did not have reasonable grounds to search vehicles at the Ruatoki roadblock. Police actions in this regard were contrary to law."

The IPCA says reports of armed police boarding a school bus during the raids were wrong and Justice Carruthers moved to correct other speculation.

"Many media outlets reported that armed police boarded and searched a kohanga reo bus carrying many young children. This was incorrect. Only one unmarked bus containing the driver, his wife and their 14-year-old grandchild was stopped and searched."

The authority has made seven recommendations, including ordering the police to repair their relationship with the local iwi, Ngai Tuhoe, and to change Armed Offenders Squad policy.

Prime Minister John Key says the report shows that the some of the activities undertaken by the police were unlawful, and they have apologised for that. He says the Government has not ruled out apologising to the iwi also, and is taking advice.

Police acknowledge mistakes

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall says he accepts the report's criticisms and acknowledges that officers acted illegally in some parts of the raid. However, he says there will be no disciplinary action for any of the officers involved, as staff acted in good faith and professionally on the day.

Peter Marshall.

Peter Marshall. Photo: NZ POLICE

Mr Marshall says the operation was a large one, with 300 officers deployed to search and raid properties throughout New Zealand.

While there had been a two-year investigation leading up to the raids, he says officers were only briefed that morning. Mr Marshall says the officers in charge of the road block at Ruatoki misinterpreted the legislation they were working under.

"There was an abundance of caution being exercised by them and they simply got in wrong in terms of the interpretation of the legislation on the roadblocks, and we accept that."

He apologised to any innocent people caught up in the raids, but defended the use of road blocks, saying police did have concerns about a group of people in the area when they set up them up.

"Police don't go in there with any malice - they went in there with a view to being extraordinarily safe. Each case is on its own merits. We deal with thousands of taskings every day, every week. We make good judgements - this one, we got it wrong."

Mr Marshall told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme that, if asked, he will go to Ruatoki at whatever time suits to speak with people caught up in the raids. He says several senior Tuhoe leaders he has already spoken to said they need some space to consider what has happened.

The commissioner says he will make sure all the report's recommendations are put into practice and there have already been changes in police procedure.

Tuhoe says report fair, but no fix

Tuhoe says the Independent Police Conduct Authority report into the armed raids and road blocks fixes nothing for the tribe. The central Bay of Plenty iwi says the inquiry was fair and comprehensive and the information was honestly gathered.

However, a Tuhoe leader, Tamati Kruger, says the lives of some of his people have been damaged and the authority's findings could have gone further.

"It would have been ideal if the report acknowledged that there has been a serious wrong and there has been injury and damage to the lives of people. That acknowledgement would have been a great step forward."

Mr Kruger says the report is useful to police because it shows them how to mend their policies.

Meanwhile, Tuhoe has complained to the IPCA that it was not given an advance copy of the report. Police had access to it in advance, as allowed under the law, and Mr Kruger says the iwi would have appreciated a similar opportunity.

IPCA recommendations

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has made seven recommendations for change following its investigation of the Urewera raids in 2007.

  • The IPCA orders police to re-engage with Tuhoe and build bridges with the Ruatoki community.
  • Police should amend the Planning and Command chapter of its manual to include provision for a log to be maintained of all decisions during the planning phase of major operations.
  • Police should start preparing impact assessments for all operations which could have a significant adverse effect on a community.
  • Armed Offenders Squad members should no longer wear balaclavas on their own - they should be worn with a ballistic helmet.
  • Policy changes recommended for the handling of road blocks and search warrants which involve children and vulnerable people.
  • Review and clarify policy and guidelines regarding the taking of photographs of people at road blocks or road closures.
  • Ensure that any amendments or clarification of policy are reflected in police training.