26 May 2012

Police 'under pressure' over Te Urewera raids

6:01 am on 26 May 2012

The lawyer for Tame Iti says police are seeking vindication for the raids in Te Urewera but their argument is tenuous.

Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara have each been sentenced to two years and six months for having firearms and Molotov cocktails at military-style training camps in Te Urewera National Park in 2007.

Their co-accused, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey, have been sentenced informally to nine months, but the judge has adjourned their case to assess whether that term can be served at home.

In his sentencing, Justice Hansen said the group was establishing a private militia and had serious intent. Police Commissioner Peter Marshall has said this validated the investigation and raids.

Iti's lawyer Russel Fairbrother told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme on Friday that Mr Marshall is seeking vindication on tenuous grounds.

"Clearly they were under a lot of pressure to try and come out with some results because they'd spent an enormous amount of money spying on these people and using some sophisticated surveillance techniques which are still not known about and are still secret."

Mr Fairbrother is lodging an appeal on the conviction and sentence.

'Political prisoners'

Supporters of Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiri Kemara are continuing to protest against what they call racist and grossly unjust prison sentences.

A protest outside the High Court in Wellington on Friday followed a loud and vocal protest by about 100 people on Thursday outside Mt Eden Prison in Auckland where the pair are jailed.

Lawyer and Mana Party president Annette Sykes says the spontaneous protests are a sign that people sense injustice. She says the matter went on too long and justice was delayed and therefore denied to a number of individuals.

One of the protesters at Mt Eden prison on Thursday was Tuhoe kaumatua Frederick Timutimu who said the pair are political prisoners and although he believes they have been unfairly jailed, this was expected. Mr Timutimu also said he never expected police to apologise to the community.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says the police raids were a travesty of justice and turned the Ruatoki community upside down.

"The whole idea of going in like storm troopers with all the gear on and frightening the hell out of a community is just wrong."

Dr Sharples said police could have simply arrested people they had filmed during their investigation.

PM won't comment

The Prime Minister is refusing to comment on the case. Outside the hotel where John Key was delivering his post-Budget speech, protesters were vocal not just about the Budget announcements, but also Iti and Kemara's jail terms.

When reporters questioned Mr Key about them, he replied that he could not comment.

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall said on Thursday that while he made absolutely no apology for the investigation, the arrests and the prosecution of those involved, one thing he would do differently is that there would not be armed officers at road checks.

John Key says he supports Mr Marshall, but has expressed regret about any impact the raids had on the community of Ruatoki.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said no apology is necessary for carrying out a successful operation that yielded firearms and revealed serious criminal activity.

Mr O'Connor said if there was to be an apology it should be given to the Ruatoki community by the four who have been convicted.