Urewera accused 'a prophet', court told

01:34, Mar 13 2012
Tama Iti
UNFAIRLY ACCUSED: Tama Iti's lawyer doesn't want his client to be misjudged.

Like Nelson Mandela, Urewera-accused Tame Iti is a "prophet" who does not deserve to be misjudged in his own time, his lawyer has told a court.

Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Emily Bailey, and Urs Signer are charged with illegal possession of firearms and participation in an organised criminal group.

They have pleaded not guilty.

The Crown began summing up his case to the jury in the High Court at Auckland this morning.

The case against the accused alleged military-style training camps took place near Ruatoki from late 2006 until October 2007.

Iti's defence lawyer Russell Fairbrother told the court Iti was an important figure in New Zealand for the role he plays in teaching people to consider points of view outside their own experiences.


Fairbrother gave as an example Iti's full-face moko, saying it often makes Pakeha feel scared or uncomfortable.
But, Fairbrother said, the moko is actually an expression of Iti's "deep cultural roots".

"By confronting that with which some of us are foreign we get eventually to know it and understand each other so much better."

Fairbrother said often in history figures such as Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for nearly 30 years before being released and rising to be the leader of post-apartheid South Africa, were misjudged and misunderstood in their own time.

"History is full of people getting half the story, having a preconception, reaching a conclusion that is often punitive and then regretting it."

He urged the jury not to do the same to Iti.

"This trial probably will go down in history. Your part in it and my part in it will probably be forgotten," he said.

"Will it be one of those instances where a prophet is misjudged in his own time by his community?  Or will you say 'there are two arguments here and we just cannot discount what the defence say about Tame Iti'?"

Fairbrother said the Crown had looked at Iti and his actions "through a keyhole" and their case was based on "half-stories and misperceptions".

He gave the example of a chatroom conversation the Crown alleged took place between Iti and an unknown person with the username "Otautahi Tane" or "Christchurch Man".

In the conversation the person the Crown alleges was Iti talks in the third person about Tame Iti and about supporting his "B plan".

The Crown said the B plan was to use violence if negotiations with the Crown over acknowledging the mana motuhake or independence of Tuhoe were to fail.

Fairbrother said it is unlikely the person in the chatroom conversation was in fact Tame Iti, given the fact he is referred to in the third person throughout.

He said the conversation read as if it was between an unknown woman and Otautahi Tane, because of the way it is signed off with "my love".

Fairbrother said Iti did not know anything about some of the evidence presented to the jury at the trial.

He gave as an example a document found in Urs Signer's car entitled "Scenarios", which contained what the Crown said were plans to ambush a car and blow up a cow shed.

Fairbrother said there is no evidence Iti was aware of that document, and therefore he was not in a position to tell Signer that wasn't the way things were done in Tuhoe.

The lawyer told the jury the Crown's relationship with the people of Tuhoe had begun to improve from 2005, and there was no way Iti would have risked that by committing acts of violence.

"Why would you ever imagine Tame Iti has a Plan B? There is no logical reason you can conclude that."

Defence lawyers for Kemara, Signer and Bailey are expected to sum up their cases before the jury this afternoon.


Urewera training camps were similar to the Springbok tour protests in 1981 - many New Zealanders wished it wasn't happening, but it was, a Crown lawyer has told the jury.

Crown lawyer Ross Burns Burns started by telling the jury that one of the most defining moments in New Zealand history was the 1981 Springbok protests.

He said it was the moment many New Zealanders realised we weren't all one "homogenous, happy people" and that there were different views on important social and political issues that led to violent clashes.

Burns said he was shocked when he saw images of violence outside the streets of Eden Park, where he himself had walked many times to the rugby.

"No matter how much I wished it away it was there and I had to deal with it as did every other New Zealander who was around in those days."

He said the alleged Urewera training camps were the same - people wished it was not happening in New Zealand, but the evidence showed it was.

Burns said it was the jury's job to figure out why it was happening, and what the four accused had intended to do with the knowledge they had gained in the alleged camps.

"Is it, as the Crown says, people training up so they can commit serious violent offences as the occasion arises? Or is it as the defence says some harmless training wananga exercise of some description?"

Burns said Iti was the recruiter and main organiser of the group.

He said this was the reason Iti never bothered to cover his face, while others wore balaclavas at the camps - everyone would have known who he was anyway, so there was no point.

Burns pointed out that a defence witness - Tamati Kruger, the Tuhoe negotiator for Treaty of Waitangi claims - had told the court he would expect Tuhoe people would reasonably feel "hatred" for past grievances with the Crown.

"We all know what hatred can do. Hatred is a poisonous force and hatred leads to violence," Burns said.

The violence the group were planning was a "Plan B" in case Tuhoe's negotiations with the Crown did not work out the way they wanted, he said.

Burns said that might be why the jury hadn't heard any evidence about a specific crime the group were planning to commit - he said the Crown couldn't say the accused were plotting to blow up the houses of Parliament, for example.

"But that doesn't mean there weren't people planning for war 'if we have to'," Burns told the jury.

Burns also addressed Iti's defence lawyer Russell Fairbrother's use of the Beatles' song "Revolution", which talked about causing change by affecting people's hearts and minds, to explain Iti's personal philosophy.

"When you're talking about blowing up communications systems in the middle of the night it's not the kind of revolution John Lennon had in mind," Burns said, referring to a piece written by Emily Bailey entitled "Strategising for a Revolution".

Defence lawyers for Iti and Signer have argued there were no training camps, just an informal wananga teaching bushcraft and basic firearms skills.

The jury heard evidence that Iti was a Tuhoe activist with a flair for the dramatic, and Signer and Bailey were hard-working and peace-loving people who made their home in the Taranaki community of Parihaka.

Kemara and Bailey chose not to call evidence.

Fairfax Media