Ihumātao police presence 'very intimidating' - protest leader Pania Newton

11:35 am on 6 August 2019

Police say they increased the number of officers at Ihumātao last night because protesters had indicated they were going to reoccupy the land.

People gathered at Ihumātao on Monday evening after police deployed more officers to the scene.

Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Dozens of officers lined up last night, blocking Ihumātao Quarry Road, with crowds of land defenders standing in front of them.

SOUL co-founder Pania Newton said she was pushed over by an officer during what was a five-hour standoff, but police have rejected the accusation saying staff acted with incredible professionalism.

Ms Newton told Morning Report the police numbers swelled just before the community's time of prayer.

She said police cordoned off the road and separated one camp, which was the front line, from the other and threatened to trespass and arrest the occupiers.

"We're not too sure why, it was very unexpected," she said.

"It was very intimidating... I was concerned about the safety of the people."

"There were hundreds of people in the dark roaming the land. They were all here to protect it," Ms Newton said.

"There were many [police] in the paddocks, many on the front line, there was a very strong presence."

SOUL co-founder Pania Newton at Ihumātao on 24 July, 2019.

SOUL co-founder Pania Newton at Ihumātao on 24 July, 2019. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Counties Manukau District Commander Superintendent Jill Rogers said in a statement that a large group of protesters attempted to bypass the police cordon despite repeated warnings from police.

"Police attempted to stop those trespassing, but protesters pushed their way past our staff. The protesters eventually vacated the private land and no arrests were made."

Ms Rogers said protesters had communicated in a meeting yesterday that they intended to move past the cordon and reoccupy the land.

The police line at Ihumatao on Monday evening after more officers were brought in.

Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Ms Newton said there was a bit of "pushback" and "aggression" from police when she went through a gate to check on younger protesters.

"I was coming through the gate and a police officer ran over and pushed the gate against me and I stumbled onto the ground and a lot of people rushed over and were very concerned.

"But luckily enough we were able to take control of the situation and everyone kept peaceful and calm."

Social media users have posted videos and grabs of live streams of the incident.

Superintendent Jill Rogers said police rejected the allegation that a protester was pushed over.

A Twitter user posted a screen grab of the incident when Pania Newton was allegedly pushed over.

An image from a video grab posted on Twitter of the incident when Pania Newton was allegedly pushed over. Photo: Twitter / @TaylarThorpe

Ms Rogers also said there was misinformation being circulated suggesting that police had broken agreements with protesters.

"Police cannot facilitate unlawful activity by allowing protesters who have been served an eviction notice to trespass on private land.

"We would like to acknowledge the incredible professionalism our staff showed yesterday evening, and throughout the last two weeks despite at times being subjected to verbal abuse, being physically shoved and even in some cases being spat on," Ms Rogers said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government was not involved in decisions made by police at Ihumātao.

Ms Ardern told Morning Report she understood police were concerned about a particular part of the site that was subject to a court order.

"My understanding was there was concern around an area of the land where there is a court order that those on the land cannot occupy and there was concern that that line would be breached overnight."

Ms Ardern said she was relying on second-hand information about what was happening, and when asked about not visiting the site said she had not ruled out going there in future.

"I do think we have a role to play in trying to facilitate a solution. In the meantime I'll keep encouraging that those who are there.

"We just try and maintain that peaceful presence while talks are ongoing. You will have seen Kīngitanga and Tainui present over the weekend, they're supporting and helping to facilitate talks, that's happening as we speak."

Police presence ramps up at Ihumatao on the evening of 5 August 2019.

Land campaigners and police at Ihumātao last night. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Ms Newton said police had previously been helpful and peaceful but the mood suddenly changed last night.

She said senior officers at the site told her they didn't agree with the increase in numbers and were looking at de-escalating but needed direction from the top.

"It took many hours - there was a standoff for about five hours."

Ms Newton said hundreds of supporters turned up once they saw live video of the incident.

Later in the morning about 80 people protested outside Fletcher Building's Auckland headquarters against the company's proposed development at Ihumātao.

Protesters outside Fletcher Building offices in Penrose, Auckland.

Protesters line the roadside outside the Fletcher Building office in Penrose. Photo: RNZ / Gillian Bonnett

The rally is part of a national day of action, with four protests taking place around the country.

The protests were organised before police numbers increased at the site last night.

Demonstrators lined the roadside opposite Fletchers' building on Great South Road, Penrose, holding up banners, flags and placards.

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