26 Oct 2012

Botched undercover work reviewed

6:30 pm on 26 October 2012

Police are to review aspects of their undercover operations as fallout from a botched undercover operation against the Red Devils gang in Nelson continues.

The case centres around a covert investigation into the Red Devils in which the police faked the arrest of a planted undercover officer and had him prosecuted through the courts.

Assistant Commissioner Malcolm Burgess says that police thought they were acting with the authority and approval of the chief district court judge.

An undercover officer had infiltrated the gang but they were suspicious of him, so in May 2010 police set up a fake drug bust using a fake search warrant to arrest him.

Police told the Chief District Court Judge some details of the operation, but the information was never passed to the presiding judge or the undercover agent's lawyer, who both treated it like any other case before the courts.

The High Court at Nelson subsequently found police actions over the fake prosecution of an undercover officer were in breach of the court process.

The Solicitor-General has two weeks to decide whether to lodge an appeal against the stay of proceedings issued by the High Court.

Hell's Angels charge might also be stayed

Meanwhile, a drug charge against the former president of the Hell's Angels in Auckland, Philip Schubert, might also be stayed in the fallout from the botched police undercover operation.

Mr Schubert is facing a charge of offering to supply methamphetamine.

In his statement, Assistant Commissioner Malcolm Burgess said police are reviewing their operations to ensure neither the courts nor the police are again put in this position.

He said the undercover programme is an integral part of attempts to tackle serious organised crime and it is often difficult and dangerous work.

The statement said police are discussing their legal options for an appeal against the stay of proceedings "given the serious allegations of offending by the Red Devils."

Prosecute police - academic

A senior legal figure says it is clear the police have breached the law and should be prosecuted over a faked arrest aimed at cracking a Nelson gang.

Canterbury University Law School head Chris Gallavin says contempt of court is probably the most appropriate offence for which the prosecuting agency could be held liable.

He says a plethora of offences may have been committed, such as filing a false oath.

"I have some sympathy for the position of the police wanting to raise the credibility of their officers but they're not a law unto themselves."

Dave Haslett, a former police detective inspector who's now a cultural anthropologist, says the case puts the public's faith in police at risk.

He says police must operate within the law regardless of the perceived threat.

Police Minister Ann Tolley says she's unaware of a second Nelson case where charges against gang members were dropped because of police actions.

Independent investigation call

A lawyer representing one on the so-called Te Urewera four says an independent investigation is needed into what he describes as a clear pattern of police disrespecting the courts.

Jeremy Bioletti, who represented Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara in the Te Urewera raids case, says the two cases are very similar, with evidence being dismissed because of police actions.

He says the police need to be investigatedand officers prosecuted but there is no independent body to do this.

He says police's clear disrespect for the courts needs to be sorted out as soon as possible, before a much more serious incident occurs.