Tuhoe Raids | A Simple History of What’s Happened in Court Since 15th October 2007

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By Annemarie Thorby

The Simple Facts

Over four years ago in New Zealand, on October 15th 2007, more than 300 police carried out dawn raids on scores of houses.

That was the day more than 60 homes up and down the country were raided, 17 people arrested and the Tuhoe community of Ruatoki, a small rural town in the Te Urewera region of the Bay of Plenty was locked down. That was the day that, in what many people claim to be a deliberately provocative action, the police established a road block on the Confiscation Line, an angry reminder of the artificial border created by the Crown in 1865 when 200,000 hectares of Tuhoe land was confiscated. At the road block, armed police boarded a school bus and everyone entering and exiting the area was photographed and had their details noted. In the actual township, children were locked for half a day in a shed without food or water.

That was the day in Auckland when an entire family, including a 12 year-old girl, were lined up against a fence and made to kneel at gun point in the rain. They stayed there for nearly five hours. She was asked if she knew about any terrorist stuff and if she had been in trouble with the police in the past.

The police claim the raids were in response to concrete terrorist threats from indigenous activists.

The police said they had evidence that there were military training camps in the Te Urewera. They said people were planning acts of terrorism, including assassinating George Bush by catapulting a bus at him. It was evidence gathered after more than 18 months of surveillance of mainly Maori and Tuhoe sovereignty activists.

The raids were the first ever carried out in New Zealand under the Terrorism Suppression Act (TSA).

However ‘terror’ charges were never laid. 17 people were arrested, one charged with cannabis offences and the other 16 were remanded in custody on charges under the Arms Acts. They waited in custody in a state of limbo to see if 12 of them were going to be charged with terrorism. In New Zealand, the consent of the Solicitor-General is required before charges can be brought under the TSA. 26 days later he said he could find insufficient evidence for terrorism charges. And further, because no one was charged with terrorism offences under the TSA, none of the intercepted evidence gathered by the police for that use could be used in any court case. This was evidence variously described as ‘laughable’, ‘not-credible’ and ‘implausible when put into context’.

Over the next few days, all the the accused were finally released on bail, charged with only fire arm offences. Bail included non-association conditions, curfews for some, reporting clauses, and those not normally resident in the Te Urewera region were banned from visiting there.

In February and April of the following year, four more people were arrested.

Trial by Media

In the days and weeks following the raids, there was a lot of talk in the country about terror. Even the Prime Minister at the time, Helen Clark, spoke about people training with at the very least firearms and napalm.

Selected parts of the inadmissible evidence were published by two New Zealand papers, the Dominion Post and the Christchurch Press, who labelled them ‘the terror files’. This was described by the Solicitor General as the most serious challenge to the public policy underpinning the law of contempt that NZ has ever seen. Contempt charges were laid against both Fairfax Media and the Dominion Post editor, but were not upheld by the High Court despite the judges there saying the actions were unlawful. Both judges queried why the police had not laid charges of unlawfully publishing intercepted material (312K of the Crimes Act), a law that the media had undeniably broken.

Most of the public were left with the images of ‘armed terrorists’ plotting murder and mayhem in New Zealand.

The Slow Wheels of Justice 2008

As for the 18 accused, the wheels of justice began to slowly turn. In 2008 the accused, family, friends and supporters spent a lot of time travelling around the country. There were court set call-over dates (sometimes defendants were excused, sometimes not), pre-depositions and finally on the first day of September 2008 the depositions began in the Auckland District Court. Meanwhile bail conditions were constantly challenged.

Depositions ended on 3rd October. It consisted of a month of the defendants sitting in the front row of the public gallery from 10am to 5pm, day in and day out. It took nearly a week just for the more than 300 charges to be read out. The accused spoke of feeling irrelevant to the procedures. Two weeks after depositions ended the 18 people had to return to Auckland for the decision. It was a success of sorts. One defendant had all charges against him dismissed, the 17 others were committed to trial but with a significantly reduced number of charges. Evidence against three of the so-called training camps was insufficient to proceed with. A new call-over date was set for February 2009, and bail conditions were altered. People were allowed to visit Ruatoki for a commemoration of the raids, reporting was dropped to only fortnightly and some non-association orders were dropped.

But people knew the wheels of justice would continue to move slowly. At that time in Auckland the average wait for a court date was 350 days. Any possible trial date could not be scheduled until at least late 2009 or early 2010.

And then any partial feelings of relief were short-lived. On 30th October all the charges were reinstated, and five of the group were charged under Clause 98A of the Crimes Act with participation in a criminal gang. An offence carrying at the time a five-year sentence, it now carries ten-years.

The Wheels of Justice 2009

In late March 2009, there were more days in court and it was decided that the case would be transferred to the High Court. Therefore on 15th May all the defendants had to return to Auckland to enter a plea in the new court. However, at this appearance bail conditions were further relaxed, non-association orders were dropped and for the first time the defendants could meet together as a group with their lawyers to discuss the details of the case. All defendants were able to travel to Ruatoki whenever they wanted and reporting was dropped to only three times a year.

Court dates to hear pre-trail applications by the defence were set for the weeks of 17th August and 14th September. And the next call-over date for the accused was scheduled for 18th December 2009. At that date a trial date was finally scheduled for May 2011.

The Wheels of Justice 2010

In 2010, as was their right, the defendants made various challenges to the court. They wanted the case to be heard in Rotorua, the closest high court to Ruatoki (the town at the centre of the raids) and a much more central location for all defendants. There were also questions about severance (a dividing up of the case in order to reduce the number of defendants/charges per trial) and applications for ‘no case to answer.’ They also challenged admissibility of some evidence and demanded their right to a jury trial. Court dates were held in June, August and September.

The June appearance was in the Court of Appeal in Wellington. Two prominent New Zealand lawyers, Rodney Harrison and Annette Sykes, appealed the admissibility of evidence. The details of the application were suppressed and it was not until 19th November that the Court of Appeal handed down their decision. The appeal was dismissed, all the evidence was admissible. The trial date was still kept for May 2011 but as there were other out-standing pre-trial applications, no one was 100% certain that the trial would begin then.

In December the courts ruled that the defendants had no right to a jury trial. It was argued that a jury would not be able to follow the case because of the number of defendants and the resultant number of charges, a complexity only brought about by the prosecution insisting on having them tried together. This would have been one of the first times in New Zealand that a jury trail would have been denied.

The Wheels of Justice 2011

In February 2011 the case was severed. Two trials were announced 15 people were to continue to be tried in the Auckland High Court by judge alone in May 2011, and three others in Rotorua at a future date. The defendants had lost nearly every application. Lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court over some of the lost applications.

In early May 2011 the Supreme Court heard an appeal against admissibility of the evidence and also allowed an appeal to be heard with regard to the right to a trial by jury. That appeal, they announced would be ruled on in August 2011. As a result the court case was once again postponed, this time until 13th February 2012.

In July one of the defendants, Tuhoe Lambert, died.

In August there was no ruling on the jury trial, the Supreme Court instead announced that they were delaying that judgement until they had issued a judgement on the admissibility of police evidence. Their ruling was in favour of the defendants the police evidence was inadmissible.

On Monday 12th September 2011 all charges against 13 of the defendants were officially dropped. Charges were not dropped against the five charged with participation in a criminal gang but now they numbered only four. Tuhoe Lambert, who died in July, had the proceedings stayed against him.

On 14th September the Supreme Court ruled that the remaining four defendants were allowed to have a trial by jury.

There have been appeals since then. The four remaining accused have once more asked for the case to be heard in Rotorua none of them live in Auckland and it is highly likely that an Auckland jury will not consist of their peers. As one of the defendants asked, ‘is a jury from central Auckland capable of understanding rural New Zealand life and tikanga Tuhoe?’ There were also more applications to dismiss the charges based on the fact that the evidence was inadmissible for the other 13, so why was it admissible for these four. There was also an application to have the case delayed by one day the first day of the trial is also the second birthday of the son of two of the defendants. A child born after the raids and raised in the midst of court appearances.

The Wheels of Justice 2012

On Monday 13th February, the case against the ‘Urewera 4’ will commence in the Auckland High Court. The case is set down to last approximately three months. The four people face charges under the Arms Act for possession of guns and a count of ‘participation in a criminal group.’

The problem is that the charge of participation in a criminal group is effectively a thought crime without evidential basis. The four people are not charged with any violent crimes or even conspiring to commit any crime. They are being put on trial for thinking and talking about such matters. The Crown will be using evidence that, when heard out of context, has been described as laughable and implausible.

The Wheels of Justice

It’s been a long time since the raids of October 15th 2007. The wheels of justice have ground so slowly. People involved in the case have died and others have been born.

There have been changes in New Zealand law as well. As a result of the police raids, the Terrorism Suppression Act was updated and after the September Supreme Court decision, a new Act was rushed through Parliament to retrospectively legalise evidence gathered illegally by the police.

What happens in the Auckland High Court in New Zealand over the next few months will be watched not only by people here, but also the world. Many people believe this case is about the criminalisation of activism, it is about the right of indigenous people to self-determination and it is about the use of legislation introduced in many countries around the world as a knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 legislation used to silence all forms of dissent. This trial is about justice to right wrongs.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Why can’t I find the kneeling pic of the old Tuhoe lady being detained at gunpoint with her granddaughter? It appears to have just disappeared. I smell a rat.

  2. Thank you Annemarie for making this information available. I am among a community of NZ Vietnam veterans that support those on trial, whaanau affected and including friend and comrade, the late Tuhoe Lambert. One veteran (represented at court by his wahine) was a patient in ICU when Tuhoe passed away.

    Veterans at court 13/2/12 chose to wear No 1 dress which include medals awarded for service in a theatre of war. This protocol is normally reserved for formal occassions such as funerals, ANZAC Day and other occassions designated by government or military tradition. The decision to wear dress medals in this instance was significant in a number of ways that will take to long to explain here. Prior to the journey North, messages of support were received from vets throughout Aotearoa. More wished to attend but for various reasons, could not. It is important to say that support from NZ Vietnam veterans may not be universal, although none have commented so.

    Representatives of our community will continue to attend hearings and, for duration.

    Kia toa
    Freda
    Ngaa Moorehu, Whaanau of Vietnam veterans
    Nga Tama Toa a Tu Aotearoa

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