Suppression a mockery

MICHAEL CUMMINGS EDITOR
Last updated 09:00 14/12/2013

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OPINION: The police investigation into the disappearance of Whetu Hansen, who is believed to have fallen victim to foul play, is about to enter its third week.

Neighbours of the Linton property where Mr Hansen's vehicle was located, and which has been the focus of an extensive search by investigators, are understandably concerned. More broadly, the public is wondering if a killer is on the loose.

Naturally, officers leading the homicide inquiry have to hold their cards close to their chest lest any future prosecution is compromised by the public release of information.

But something quite curious happened in the Palmerston North District Court this week in relation to the Hansen investigation. It might be less than noteworthy to the casual observer, but it highlights our justice system's stubborn disregard for the interests of the public, not to mention a baffling lack of common sense.

On Monday the officers investigating Mr Hansen's disappearance spoke to a man, then charged him. Police then issued a press release on Tuesday morning announcing the missing persons inquiry had been upgraded to a homicide investigation. In the same release, they revealed that a man had been arrested and charged, they said how old he was, where he lived and what he had been charged with. The release said he would be appearing in court later that day. All this information was duly reported on manawatustandard.co.nz and by other media around the country.

However, when the man appeared in court before a Justice of Peace just a few hours later, police consented to an order suppressing his name, age, any identifying details and the charge he is facing. Apparently, police no longer wanted any information about the arrested man in the public domain.

So, websites had to be changed in an effort to "unreport" what had already been reported and the public (well, those who hadn't already read the original reports, at least) were left wondering whether the arrest by homicide investigators of an unidentified man charged with nothing in particular has any bearing on whether or not a killer is still walking the streets.

To add to the farce, police are themselves still breaching the suppression order, but we can't tell you how because to do so would also be a breach of the order and they could prosecute us for an offence they are also committing.

So, all we can now do is wish the police every success in finding whoever was responsible for taking Whetu Hansen's life, if indeed they haven't found him already.

ONE MORE THING: Christmas party season is in full swing, so enjoy it but please keep yourselves safe.

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