Lawyer wants pay after court 'sting'

WEIGHING OPTIONS: Nelson barrister Tony Bamford.
WEIGHING OPTIONS: Nelson barrister Tony Bamford.

A lawyer duped into representing the undercover officer at the centre of a fake prosecution is considering chasing police for his unpaid bills.

Nelson barrister Tony Bamford represented a police officer, posing as gang associate Michael Wiremu Wilson, when he and 21 other Red Devils were charged in June 2010.

The charges against the undercover cop were fake and police arranged the operation to bolster his credentials after he infiltrated the gang, where he was under suspicion of being a police officer.

When his cover was blown he disappeared, and his bill is unpaid.

Revelations of the fake prosecution, first reported in the Sunday Star-Times in July, saw charges against the gang and its associates thrown out last week and a High Court judgment exposing a slew of questionable police tactics in organising the "fraud" on the courts.

Bamford said he was "annoyed" at being caught up in the affair, and at not being paid. But he was more concerned with the blurring of boundaries and the police's attitude to using the courts.

Criminal Bar Association president Tony Bouchier has called for an independent inquiry into a "most appalling piece of policing". The former policeman said he had "absolutely no doubt" there had been criminal offending by the police involved.

Police national crime manager Superintendent Rod Drew - the country's most senior operational detective - went to then District Court Judge Russell Johnson, who has since died, and sought "sign-off" for the operation.

But Justice Simon France ruled police were "reckless" in thinking that meeting the judge in chambers constituted legal authority to deceive the courts.

Criticism has centred on police also forging a search warrant, and then instructing the officer not to appear in court, which Bouchier said was a stand-alone offence, calling the instruction a "perversion of the course of justice".

A letter from Drew to Johnson, requesting approval for Wilson to appear, has been obtained by the Sunday Star-Times. It shows the operation was under way before the meeting with the judge.

Dated May 31, 2010, the letter said Wilson had been arrested on May 29, though his charge sheet says May 27. Drew's letter said police had a "clear policy that this will not happen without the knowledge and approval of a District Court judge".

Justice France said a document setting out such a policy "did not in fact exist at the relevant time". He said the letter was "wholly inadequate to alert the Chief Judge to the realities".

Johnson's death meant Justice France's suspicion he and police were not "on the same page" could not be tested, and he criticised the fact police did not seek legal advice, and questioned "the correctness of using the court's processes as an investigative aid".

Despite the criticisms, Justice France said he did not think police acted in "bad faith", and police top brass, the minister and Prime Minister John Key have all backed the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand, for being mistaken but well-intentioned.

Bouchier said the most worrying thing was that the Government and police "just don't see it".

"It's called separation of powers, it's called independence of the judiciary. The head of the Police Association is saying the courts keep changing the rules - those rules have been there since the Magna Carta. Police are supposed to protect democracy, not sabotage it."

Barrister Steve Rollo, who represented several of the accused, said he was also surprised at the "indifference" of some lower court judges when the issue was put before them.

He said Auckland barrister Eb Leary had worked to force information out of the police, obtaining a court order to force disclosure of the scheme's details. His client, Phillip Schubert, was charged in relation to Wilson's activities and is expected to be discharged this week.

Sunday Star Times