Urewera police raid actions 'unlawful'

'UREWERA FOUR': Left to right: Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and  Emily Bailey.
GRAEME COX
'UREWERA FOUR': Left to right: Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey.

Police "unnecessarily frightened and intimidated" people during the Urewera raids, opposition says as highly critical report is released.

Labour, the Government at the time of the raids, and the Greens said the reports findings were damning, while the Government and police said changes had already been made to ensure there was no repeat.

A independent review of the Urewera raids labelled police actions ''unlawful, unjustified and unreasonable''.

While the decision by then-Commissioner Howard Broad to undertake ''Operation Eight'' in 2007 was justified and reasonable, some of the subsequent actions were not, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has revealed.

But the IPCA found one of the most criticised parts of the Urewera raids - the stopping and searching of a kohanga reo bus full of young children - did not happen.

It had been claimed that masked and armed police boarded a bus, traumatising the children.

The authority says it spoke to three kohanga reo bus drivers and could not substantiate the claims.

Police did stop and search an unmarked kohanga reo bus but it contained only two adults and their 14-year-old grandchild, the authority's report issued today says.

But the finding has come against an overall conclusion that police actions in stopping and searching vehicles, were not in accordance with the law, were unjustified and unreasonable.

The raids in the Ruatoki Valley and elsewhere on October 15, 2007, resulted in 17 people facing a total of 291 charges under the Arms Act, including the illegal possession of an AK47-style rifle, a double-barrel sawn-off shot gun, a military-style semi-automatic firearm and Molotov cocktails.

Of those, most defendants had their charges dropped when evidence was ruled inadmissible in court. The ''Urewera Four'' - Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey - were convicted last year.

Iti and Kemara were sentenced to two and a half years' jail, while Bailey and Signer were sentenced to nine months' home detention.

Following a Supreme Court decision last month that it was not in the public interest to hear an additional appeal over their convictions, the IPCA today released its findings.

ROAD BLOCKS UNLAWFUL AND UNJUSTIFIED

The road blocks set up at Ruatoki and Taneatua were unlawful and unjustified and while police were warranted in taking steps to mitigate the possible risk to public safety there was no justification for believing there was a general threat to people in Ruatoki, IPCA chairman Sir David Carruthers said.

Police also undertook insufficient planning and preparation for the road blocks, having armed police on the scene was intimidating and no-one had considered the likely impact on the community of the roadblocks.

''All vehicles leaving Ruatoki were searched by armed offenders squad members, not just those vehicles believed to be transporting an offensive weapon," Carruthers said.

''This impacted on people going to work, taking their children to school and otherwise going about their daily business. It also added to people's fear and anxiety.

''Police actions in this regard were contrary to law.''

The road block at Ruatoki and the presence of armed police officers was found to be intimidating and detrimental to the community. The detention of occupants at five properties was also found to be unlawful and unjustified.

''Police had no legal basis for stopping and searching vehicles or photographing drivers or passengers.

''While police were justified in taking steps to address possible risk to public safety, there was no justification for believing there was a general threat to the people of Ruatoki.''

Photographs of 66 drivers and 15 passengers were taken at the road blocks, in some instances including children. The IPCA found the photography was not part of operation planning and had not been discussed.

''Police had no legal basis or justification for this action, which left some people feeling degraded and intimidated.''

Searches carried out at 5 properties were also deemed unlawful: ''While police have the power to restrict the movement of people to prevent a search being interfered with, they cannot lead people to unreasonably believe they are being detained. In a number of cases here they did so,'' Carruthers said.

The IPCA recommended that police institute a number of policy and practice changes relating to their use of road blocks, and has further recommended police ''re-engage with Tuhoe and take appropriate steps to build bridges with the Ruatoki community''.

TUHOE CONFLICTED ON FINDINGS

Tuhoe spokesman Tamati Kruger said the report was ''fair'' and ''well-presented'', but could not agree with all of its findings.

''I thought it was respectful. As reports go, it's most welcome after five years' of waiting.

''[But] I think, over all, it's to be expected that we would disagree with some of the findings and conclusions.''

The biggest omission in the report, he said, was the distress caused to the community - the ill-affects of which were still being felt.

''I was a little bit disappointed the report wasn't punchy enough around the distress that has affected many Tuhoe people. I felt it was a little bit too diplomatic.

''I though it should have said something very, very wrong happened ... and the lives of many people will never be the same again.''

For many Tuhoe, the events of October 15, 2007, could not be forgotten, he said.

''The loss of confidence, and the giving up hope around justice, for many of them it cannot be retrieved. And many of them will pass that down to the next generation. Which is not good, not healthy, but you can understand.''

He said the report was a step in the right direction, and Tuhoe would now evaluate what further action to take.

''We need to go home and gather the Tuhoe complainants together and talk with our community and take out time to consider carefully what is the attitude and spirit by which we move forward.

''I would be encouraging those complainants to prepare ourselves for a conversation with the police early next year and to find ways through this.''

KEY - I FELT SAFE

Prime Minister John Key said he felt "totally safe" visiting Ruatoki just two months before the Urewera raids.
Key visited as then leader of the opposition at the invitation of Tuhoe.

The diplomatic protection squad (DPS) - the police unit charged with protecting the prime minister and other dignitaries - conducted an assessment and deemed it safe for Key to visit.

Key did not know of the threat himself.

''I felt totally safe when I went there and that's obviously been noted as part of the overall report.''

He conceded that the DPS' view appeared to conflict with the overall threat assessment by police at the time.

''You'd have to say it's a little odd given that one of the potential people that the threat was against was myself.''

Given the outcome of the independent report it was right police had apologised, Key said.

The Government was taking advice on the next step including whether it should apologise and whether compensation be paid, though Key said that was unlikely.

"Essentially I think what it shows is where they undertook the road blocks they were unlawful, fundamentally, the police got that a little bit wrong and that's a serious matter in terms of the stress that they put on those communities.''

But police genuinely believed they were investigating a matter that could include domestic terrorism, he said.

"Inevitably this was a significant operation, people were charged and went to jail."

THE THREAT WAS REAL

Police said they had already changed their methods so that armed offenders squad operations would generally include an assessment of the potential of their actions to adversely affect communities.

They had also changed policy about dealing with children and vulnerable people while conducting searches.

The authority's findings included that people at five properties being searched were wrongly led to believe that police could detain them while the search was made.

"While police have the power to restrict the movement of people to prevent a search being interfered with, they cannot lead people to reasonably believe they are being detained. In a number of cases here they did so."

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall said he accepted the criticisms of police actions and welcomed the findings that lay to rest some "myths" that had become accepted as fact, such as searching the kohanga reo bus and that a roadblock had been set up on the historic confiscation line.

"The context is important here. This was an operation involving more than 300 police staff nationwide. It followed an almost two-year investigation into a group of people involved in military style training camps using Molotov cocktails, semi automatic rifles, threats to kill people and destroy property.

"The authority says the threat was real and potentially serious and the police response involved a huge logistical challenge."

Police action in the Urewera raids was out of proportion to the risk assessed two months earlier when John Key had visited a Ruatoki marae while leader of the Opposition, the authority found.

Before Key visited the Owhakatoro Marae on August 2, 2007, the diplomatic protection squad thought there was no specific threat particularly as Key was visiting at the invitation of local Tuhoe leaders.

It was also thought that as leader of the Opposition he would not be seen as a representative of the State or the Crown, with whom Tuhoe had long-standing grievances.

The investigation team intercepted communications between some targets of the investigation about Key's visit and knew the diplomatic protection squad was making inquiries, but did not think security around the visit needed to be increased.

The authority says the way Key's visit was handled was not considered relevant to planning the end of the major investigation.

"The authority considers that the visit by Mr Key is relevant to consideration of the proportionality of the police's approach to termination of Operation Eight in Ruatoki."

Police say they received intelligence suggesting there was an unknown "local group" in the area which could pose a threat. They had not identified all those who had been to the training camps, and they knew that it was not just members of Tuhoe who were involved in the camps.

"Yet despite this being the situation, the Operation Eight investigation team did not consider it necessary to take any steps to alert DPS [the Diplomatic Protection Squad] so that protection could be afforded to Mr Key during his visit in August 2007."

"There is an apparent discrepancy between the assessment of risk posed to Mr Key and the one taken by police some two months later when assessing the risks to police and the public on termination of Operation Eight and in the specific approach taken in Ruatoki."

The authority said the "divergent issues" were more easily seen with benefit of hindsight but the fact that Key's visit was incident-free should have been considered as part of the police's "tactical appreciation and termination planning".

"However, given the different circumstances, even if it had been considered it is not likely to have affected the nature of the police termination."

VALUABLE LESSONS LEARNT

Police Minister Anne Tolley said police accepted some of their actions during the Urewera raids were unlawful, but she was pleased an independent report found police the decision to take action was justified.

"I have discussed the report with the commissioner and I have been assured that the police have learned valuable lessons from these events, and have made significant changes in the almost six years since the operation."

Tolley urged people to remember four people were convicted following the operation and no one was hurt.

"When people are running around with guns and Molotov cocktails the public would expect the Police to take action, and will back them to do so in the future if required," she said.

Meanwhile, Labour police spokesman Kris Faafoi said it was vital action was taken to ensure such events were not repeated.

It was a "deep concern" that police activities were unlawful, he said.

"Innocent people were unnecessarily frightened and intimidated and that is unacceptable."

Faafoi supported an annual review of progress made on the implementation of the report's recommendations.

"The recommendations made by the Independent Police Conduct Authority after its investigation into Operation Eight must be fully implemented and reported back to the Government and Tuhoe people."

The Green Party called the report damning and said a dramatic overhaul of police culture was still needed.

Party police spokesman Dave Clendon said it was not okay to "descend like masked ninjas" on a small community, adding that police thinking about the raids had not fundamentally changed.

He believed racial discrimination played a part on the abuse of rights and illegal detention of innocent people.

"Would the police have raided Remuera in Auckland, or Khandallah in Wellington in the same way?" he asked.

An apology was the bare minimum police could offer, he said.

Police rode roughshod over the rights of Ruatoki people, he said.

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