Editorial: Costly Urewera defence hollow

Last updated 05:00 23/03/2012

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OPINION: The list of people and organisations which emerge with their reputations enhanced from the Urewera trial is short. The list of those who emerge with their reputations tarnished is considerably longer.

It includes law-makers, the police, the four defendants - Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey - others who participated in the military style training camps that triggered the 2007 police raids and those who have argued that the defendants were the victims of a racist conspiracy.

As the jury's verdicts demonstrate, police had good cause to be concerned about the defendants' activities. The four have been convicted of a range of firearms offences, including possessing Molotov cocktails. However, the jury's inability to reach a decision on the major charge of participating in an organised crime group has left unclear what the purpose of the camps was.

According to Jeremy Bioletti, lawyer for Kemara, participants in the camps were simply training to work in the overseas security industry. According to Valerie Morse, principal cheerleader for the accused, they were preparing to take up local security opportunities with forestry companies around Ruatoki.

Neither explanation is credible. Ms Morse's participation in the camps - she was identified by Crown prosecutor Ross Burns as the woman carrying a pistol in one of the videos shown to the jury - mitigates against the first explanation. She has been an outspoken opponent of New Zealand troops being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not credible to believe she would associate herself with the training of private security personnel to assist United States forces. The suggestion that forestry companies operating around Ruatoki need security personnel trained in the use of firearms and incendiary devices is equally risible. Ruatoki is not Baghdad or Kabul.

Some of the blame for the unsatisfactory outcome of the trial rests with politicians and police. Labour and National were so desperate to align New Zealand with the rest of the West after September 11 that they passed anti-terrorism legislation so poorly drafted that hundreds of pages of intercepted communications were ruled inadmissible by the solicitor-general.

The police alienated the entire community of Ruatoki, and large tracts of Maoridom, by conducting the original arrests in a heavy-handed manner and their reliance on illegally obtained video evidence resulted in charges against 13 of those alleged to have participated in the camps, including Ms Morse, being struck out by the Supreme Court.

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However, the lion's share of the blame rests with Iti, Kemara, Signer and Bailey and their associates. Far from being victims of a system that has trampled on their rights, they are the beneficiaries of a system that has upheld their rights at every turn, at a cost to the public of almost $3 million for legal aid alone.

Before making further pleas for sympathy, Ms Morse might like to explain to the public exactly what she was doing in the bush with a pistol.

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