12 Nov 2015

Sonny Tau admits hunting kererū

7:18 pm on 12 November 2015

Embattled Ngāpuhi leader Sonny Tau has pleaded guilty to hunting an endangered bird.

Raniera Sonny Tau

Northland iwi leader Sonny Tau, centre, on his way into Auckland District Court today. Photo: RNZ/ Kim Baker Wilson

Mr Tau had previously pleaded not guilty to the charge but changed that plea today in the Auckland District Court.

He is also facing a new charge of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

Photo from - Otari-Wilton's Bush 2012 Photo Competition held by WCC

Kererū Photo: WCC / Jan Kench

Mr Tau, who arrived flanked by three women, would not answer questions as he walked into the court.

For the past five months, Mr Tau has been under the media spotlight. As a respected leader, he held prominent positions within the iwi - including as the chairman of Tūhoronuku and the chairman of Te Rūnanga-Ā-Iwi-O-Ngāpuhi, which looks after 120,000 beneficiaries.

But, in June, he was caught at Invercargill Airport with five kererū (native wood pigeon). He had earlier admitted possessing them but, until today, he had pleaded not guilty to hunting them.

He has since relinquished both of those leadership positions.

'Back off and let him be'

The news of the guilty plea and the additional charge has upset Ngāpuhi elder Kingi Taurua, who is the spokesperson for the iwi's elders' council.

"We're very disappointed and sad about [the] whole issue. I would've thought, as a leader, he would've known what he was doing was against the law.

"I'm sad for Sonny and sad for the tribe - he did a lot of wonderful things for Ngāpuhi."

But Northland Conservation Board chairman Mita Harris said the iwi now needed to get in behind Mr Tau.

"I don't support what Sonny has done - but where I do support him, and where I'll stand by him, is now he's in a very sore position.

"My message for those who want to put the boot in is, back off and let him be."

Appearance scheduled for third charge

Mr Tau has faced three charges in connection with the kererū incident.

Two of those, to which he has now pleaded guilty, were laid by the Department of Conservation: possession of an endangered species, and hunting an endangered species.

The maximum sentence for those charges is two years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine.

He is still facing the third charge, which was laid by the police, of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. He is expected to appear on that charge in the New Year.

Mr Tau delivered a whakapaha (apology) to Ngāi Tahu over the kererū in August when he travelled with a group of supporters to Invercargill.

A Ngāi Tahu spokesperson told RNZ what happened on the marae stayed on the marae and court proceedings were a matter for the court.

Te Rūnanga-Ā-Iwi-O-Ngāpuhi declined to comment on the latest developments.