8 Sep 2011

Police Commissioner won't commit to raids apology

9:53 am on 8 September 2011

The Police Commissioner will not commit to an apology to people belonging to Maori iwi Tuhoe caught up in raids over alleged military-style training camps in 2007.

On Tuesday, the Crown dropped proceedings against 13 of the 17 people who faced trial as a result of the raids in the Ureweras and elsewhere following a Supreme Court judgement issued last week. The ruling is suppressed.

The Crown is proceeding with its case against four people, including Tuhoe activist Tame Iti, who face firearms charges and being part of an organised criminal group. It expects the trial to begin in February 2012.

The Maori Party has called for an apology to the people of Bay of Plenty iwi Tuhoe, who say they were unfairly targeted while police carried out the investigation.

Police have been accused of invading the Ruatoki community in Bay of Plenty during the raids.

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall told Checkpoint on Wednesday there were difficulties with the relationship between the iwi and police after the operation was carried out.

However, Mr Marshall says a decision on whether police will apologise or not will happen after the February trial.

"I unquestionably recognise that there were difficulties with the relationship as a result (of the raids). That doesn't take away in any shape or form from my absolute support for the prosecution and the investigators and the Crown decision to proceed as they have done."

Mr Marshall admits the investigation had a number of unintended consequences on the relationship with Tuhoe and police which will take some time to heal.

However, he stands by the decision to prosecute people charged after the raids, saying police had sound reasons to carry out search warrants and there will be no apology for any ongoing prosecutions.

Prime Minister John Key says he still believes police acted with the best intentions in the raids, despite charges being dropped against many accused.

Mr Key says that, in his view, police acted because they believed people were at risk.

"Now, that's not the basis of the ruling that's come out, in terms of whether information is admissible to the court or not, that's a completely different issue."

Mr Key would not say whether he thought an apology should be given to the people who are having charges against them dropped.

'Police credibility dented'

Tuhoe elder Tamati Kruger says the aftermath of the raids has dented police credibility.

Mr Kruger believes most New Zealanders consider the police action and what followed to be bogus, and if the charges were true they would have been done and dusted well before now. Police have declined to comment on this.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says the people of Tuhoe have not recovered from the behaviour of police in 2007 and will continue to argue for an apology for those caught up in the raids.

Auckland Council for Civil Liberties president Barry Wilson also says a police apology should be made and that a report on the raids from the Independent Police Conduct Authority is overdue.

Suppression order

The Crown has said it intends to apply to have suppression orders on the Supreme Court judgement lifted, while preserving the rights of the remaining four to a fair trial.

Tame Iti's lawyer Russell Fairbrother said he has reservations about suppression orders being lifted until Mr Iti's trial has been heard.

"I have hesitation about increasing the level of media publicity from one perspective, which is the police perspective. If we can get Mr Iti's case heard or finalised before February, we'll try and do it that way."

Meanwhile, Crown solicitor Ross Burns says the Crown has agreed in principle to a jury trial for the four defendants, though the Crown Law Office has still to confirm this.

Supporters of the group have urged police to drop the charges saying the four-year wait for trials has become a farce.

But Mr Burns says that when the evidence comes out at trial it will be for a jury or judge to decide "whether in fact it was a farce or whether indeed it was important enough to justify the time and effort that has gone into it."