Operation Burnham inquiry hearing suspended, witnesses may be recalled

6:16 am on 20 September 2019

New evidence has forced the Operation Burnham inquiry to suspend the hearing which is investigating claims of civilian deaths in a New Zealand-led raid in Afghanistan in 2010.

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The Operation Burnham inquiry on Thursday. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

New Defence Force witnesses may now have to be summoned and others recalled to provide more information.

The hearings were suspended after a register of classified documents was presented to the inquiry team.

The register shows who signed in a key report that mentions civilian casualties and which ended up locked away in a Defence Force safe from 2011 to 2014.

The report, from the International Security Assistance Force, said civilian casualties may have occurred, contradicting public statements by the Defence Force that deaths were unlikely.

Military staff have repeatedly told the inquiry they have no idea how Defence got the report however the register was signed in by the office of the director of special operations.

Lieutenant General Tim Keating at the Operation Burnham inquiry.

Tim Keating. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

After a Native Affairs documentary in 2014, the bundle was found in the safe. Then-Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman was furious and contacted former defence chief Tim Keating.

Dr Coleman corrected the public record but Tim Keating did not.

He told the inquiry yesterday he had no idea who put the report in the safe, nor why it lay undiscovered for so long.

In a statement last night, the inquiry said there would be no hearing today.

"... there will be another round at some point once certain issues that were raised earlier today in relation to a NZDF document register have been resolved.

"That may require other witnesses to be called, or recalled, plus Air Marshal Short who was due to be the last witness," it said.

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