Key hints at terror act change after Urewera decision

01:45, May 09 2012
Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and  Emily Bailey
Left to right: Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey.

Prime Minister John Key has hinted at a change to terrorism legislation after a judge today confirmed there will be no retrial of the "Urewera Four".

In a brief hearing at the High Court at Auckland this morning, Crown Prosecutor Ross Burns applied for a stay of proceedings on the charge of participation in an organised criminal group, which a jury had been unable to agree on during the trial.

Justice Brewer granted the stay, meaning the four, Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey will not be retried. None of the four were present in court.

They were found guilty of firearms charges in March after a lengthy trial, and will be sentenced in a few weeks.

In a memorandum to the court, Burns gave a number of reasons for not continuing with the prosecution including that any sentence from the organised criminal charge was unlikely to change the end result, five years had elapsed since the charges were laid and that the chance of a fair retrial had been jeopardised by the media coverage to date.



Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key said the Terrorism Suppression Act was targeted at foreign organisations and was not working well.

Changing the law was "something for another day but fundamentally probably makes sense".

He said police involved in the Urewera raids believed they were dealing with serious activities and it was up to them whether a formal apology was given. Police have declined to comment until after the four have been sentenced.

"I think you have to take a step back, in fairness to the police, and say that they genuinely believed that they were dealing with a situation where there was suspected, serious, terrorist activity," Key said.

It was right for police to be cautious in such situations, he said.

"It's no different from the [Kim] Dotcom situation [the internet mogul is awaiting a deportation hearing on U.S. piracy charges], it's easy for people in hindsight to say nothing occurs."

"I think we've got to back our police and say that they've appropriately discharged their duties in a way where their safety has to be paramount."

Earlier, NZ First leader Winston Peters said Parliament had "screwed-up" the terror act and MPs should be among those to apologise over the "botched" Urewera raids and trial.

Peters said the legislation and the quality of the evidence had been "a bit of a botch-up". Police had acted on powers they believed Parliament had given them.

"To be honest, all of us at Parliament screwed up on this thing when we passed that legislation; it was deficient.

"I blame Parliamentarians and I don't exonerate myself. We didn't pay enough attention at the time."

If there was to be any reconciliation, there needed to be an apology from a "few people on both sides... including Parliament".

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said she believed police should apologise and talks between them and Tuhoe were already underway.

"I think that what we do know is that when they went into Tuhoe looking for two people, that there appeared to be a bit of an over kill so lots of families within Tuhoe suffered hugely, we still have children who are traumatised by that particular event. I don't think it's hard to say sorry," she said.


Legal costs for the trial are already nearing $3 million and are expected to exceed $6m when final invoices are filed.

The Law Society has described the case as the most expensive criminal trial in New Zealand's history.

A spokesman for the Attorney General Chris Finlayson said the Government would not comment because it was an operational matter.

The Crown case against the four contended that they were the ringleaders of alleged training camps preparing the participants for armed combat in 2007.

The case included sensational claims that the defendants and others were planning to use guerrilla warfare to achieve self-determination in the Tuhoe region.

But defence lawyers said the camps were to teach bushcraft and firearms skills in the hope that the participants might gain jobs in the security industry in the Middle East or Africa.


One of the defence lawyers this morning said the police had become obsessed with spying and wanted to test out a new unit rather than front and up deal with people on the scene.

Auckland lawyer Russell Fairbrother, acting for activist Tame Iti, told NewstalkZB the reasons for a stay of further proceedings were strong and it had been a mistake to bring the charges in the first place.

"It is easy said with hindsight but the police got a focus which could have been avoided if they had spoken to the people involved," he said.

At the time of the alleged charges, the police had been developing their special tactics group and were determined to have a target.

"Instead of investigating like police normally do they engaged in spying, and suspicious minds always find proof."

Fairbrother said that when the solicitor-general David Collins in 2007 withdrew the original terrorism charges, the Crown should have "pulled the plug".

He said the full cost of the trial would never be known but he believed the justice system was very good because the right decisions had been made.

"I do think the police have to consider whether spying is appropriate in New Zealand or whether fronting up and confronting people is the right way to go about it."

Fairbrother said he had yet to speak to Iti over the latest decision.

"He will be very relieved. He has been really worried; it has been an extremely stressful four years for him and the others."

Earlier Fairbrother said he hoped some good might come of the ordeal in making connections between the "Tuhoe approach to things and the Pakeha way of doing things".

"There shouldn't be a mystery. What was going on in the bush was private activity. Information was gained surreptitiously. They could have knocked on the door they would have been told."

Fairfax Media