Protest against jailing of Urewera pair

Last updated 20:18 24/05/2012

Lawyers and supporters for the crown and the defendants give their reaction to the custodial sentence given at Aucklands high court.

Police Commissioner on Urewera probe

Tame Iti
PARTING GESTURE: Tame Iti expresses his displeasure.

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Protesters have gathered outside Mt Eden Prison in Auckland to demonstrate against the prison sentences handed down to "Urewera Four" members Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara today.

The four - Iti, Urs Signer, Kemara and Emily Bailey - were found guilty of unlawful possession of military-style firearms and Molotov cocktails at training camps held in the Urewera Ranges in 2006 and 2007.

Iti and Kemara were sentenced to two and a half years jail and Signer and Bailey had their sentences adjourned but home detention was signalled when they appeared in the High Court at Auckland.

Up to 100 protesters, including veteran activist John Minto, tonight gathered outside the prison and were banging pots and pans, Radio New Zealand reported.

Earlier Iti began a loud haka when he was escorted out of the court to begin his sentence. Supporters in the packed public gallery chanted with Iti as security hurriedly cleared the court.

Crown prosecutor Ross Burns urged the judge to impose jail terms saying the crimes were serious and the jury had rejected the explanation that the camps were "wanangas" or training for people who wanted to work in the security industry.

"I still wait, as does the rest of the country, (for an explanation) as to what the Molotov cocktails were for," he said.

"The suggestion that police should have gone up to Mr Iti and told him to pull his head in is naive in the extreme. Firearms are not a joke," Burns said.

Justice Hansen was emphatic that despite a "Dad's Army" aspect to the camps, their intent was serious.

"A private militia was being established. That is a frightening prospect to our society."

The judge said one of those involved held extreme anarchist views and there was talk among the participants of killing, using explosives to kill, and attempts to "smash the state".

The four's defence lawyers argued for discharges without conviction - in essence, no penalty - but Hansen denied the applications, saying convictions had already been entered and there was no jurisdiction to do otherwise.

Russell Fairbrother, for Iti, said his client had a good character and a leading role in his Tuhoe tribe.

He said the jury's failure to rule on the organised criminal group charge meant the activities observed could "arouse curiosity" only.

"It is a big step to move to something of a malign purpose."

The judge said that had the jury accepted the camps were wanangas, they would have had a legitimate purpose and that would have been a legal defence.

As the legitimate explanations had been rejected, "What possible other explanation could there be for what the participants were demonstrably doing?" Hansen asked.

After the sentencing, Police Commissioner Peter Marshall expressed regret for the impact the Urewera investigation had on the community of Ruatoki, but said he made "absolutely no apology" for conducting the investigation.

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After a six-week trial earlier this year, all but Signer were found guilty of five charges of unlawful possession of firearms, and one charge of unlawful possession of a restricted weapon - Molotov cocktails.

Signer was found guilty on four charges of unlawful possession of firearms, and one charge of unlawful possession of a restricted weapon.

Iti, Kemara and Bailey were found not guilty of four firearms charges, and Signer not guilty of five.

The jury could not decide on the most serious charge laid against the four - participating in an organised criminal group.

The Crown decided this month not to pursue a retrial on that charge, because doing so would add further expense to an already high-cost case, and unprecedented media coverage could make it difficult to find an impartial jury.

The trial jury were asked to decide whether Iti, Kemara, Bailey and Signer were participating in military training camps in the Urewera ranges in October 2007, or if the four were engaged in a more innocent pursuit, teaching people skills to gain employment in the security industry in the Middle East.

- Stuff

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