You might argue that Kate Dewes and Rob Green have had remarkably bad luck with New Zealand Post. Their collection of shredded, torn, ripped and emptied envelopes, many stamped with various official apologies for their condition, runs to over 100 (they've only kept about half).
Or you might agree with their belief that this is evidence that, for nearly two decades, they have been under surveillance by British intelligence.
Dewes and Green say spooks have repeatedly burgled their Christchurch home and post office box; intercepted their landline calls; blocked cellphone calls; posted watchers outside their house, even slashed their car tyres (and those of people planning to meet them).
They are not your easily-dismissed typical conspiracy theorists: she is a university lecturer, officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit and former advisor to two United Nations secretary-general's committees. He is a retired British Royal Navy Commander. Among their supporters are nearly a hundred British and New Zealand MPs, plus other political heavyweights like Helen Clark and former British Labour leader Neil Kinnock.
But they are, say New Zealand's Security Intelligence Service, delusional. SIS boss Warren Tucker, with whom they have a curious, even affectionate relationship, told them so in his last letter: "I believe you are mistaken and an explanation lies elsewhere. A traumatic episode will always have an impact on those closely involved and it is not uncommon for this to affect their judgement of subsequent events."
The reason Britain would have invested so much time and money in watching two such law-abiding Kiwis for such a long time is Green's late aunt, Hilda Murrell, an anti-nuclear protestor who was abducted and killed in 1984, just before she was due to give evidence to a public enquiry into a proposed nuclear power station. The initial police investigation failed to unearth a felon and it was not until 2003 a murder conviction was secured against petty criminal Andrew George, who was 16 at the time of Murrell's death.
Green always believed a group acting on the direction of British intelligence killed his aunt, in the belief she had obtained leaked documents: either through her anti-nuclear contacts, or from Green himself, perhaps about the controversial sinking of the Argentinian warship the General Belgrano during the Falklands War (Green was a senior naval officer at the time, but left shortly afterwards).
After George's conviction, Green picked a number of large holes in the police case, compiled them into a book - A Thorn In Their Side - and even met George in prison, where George would claim he hadn't acted alone. British MP Tam Dalyell used Parliamentary privilege to claim shortly after Murrell's death that it was linked to the Belgrano sinking and her case has remained a cause celebre in the UK - the British tabloid The Daily Mail has already run an extract of a new edition of Green's book, released this month.
And that's why, says Green, he has been harassed ever since - because intelligence believes he still possesses papers, perhaps relating to the Belgrano. He says he doesn't, and doesn't know what they think he has. Asked why the British could possibly still be interested, so many years later, Green says: "We have to assume someone out there has already, maybe, intercepted something, and they are trying to make sure no more comes to us, or no copy comes to us, and they are terrified about some documents out there." He speculates that it could be something to do with nuclear power, the Falklands, or something "embarrassing" to the former Thatcher government.
Neither Green nor his wife like talking on the phone, because they expect somebody is listening. So, when they are in Auckland for a speaking engagement at a local library, we meet in a pub in Devonport.
Dewes has dismantled her cellphone, and at first suggests I do the same with mine, but relents. Later, jokingly, she turns to my phone and says "Are you listening?" They are adamant that their watchers will know we are meeting. And so, with an incongruous soundtrack of Seal and Robbie Williams on the pub stereo, they lay out their case in the manner of rather careful lawyers.
"We are sick of it," says Dewes, as they steadily stack up examples of events which could be easily explained as coincidental, but the volume of them tests that belief. There is not just the missing and tampered mail (even material Dewes posted to herself from England, but which arrived empty or damaged), but the five break-ins where nothing was taken and the suspicious movements of strangers around their home (they have five signed witness statements, one from a senior military officer, to these incidents), the continued failure of cellphone calls and emails, Dewes' computer apparently being tampered with.
It doesn't appear the most sophisticated surveillance, but they say that's because the British want them to know they are not off the hook. Indeed, Tucker told them back in 2009 it couldn't be the SIS surveilling them because they would not be so ham-fisted. "They keep saying they are not doing it to us. But if they are not, who the hell is, that's the question?" says Dewes. Their conclusion is thus the British - nobody else would have the resources nor motive to monitor them so closely.
It has not distracted them from their long campaign for a review of the Murrell case, nor their work for the Peace Foundation Disarmament and Security Centre, which they jointly run from their Riccarton home. Instead, they use what Green calls low-level techniques: he carries no cellphone, sensitive material is handwritten, not stored on computer, they don't talk openly at home for fear of bugging devices. When they travel, they never advertise their plans and don't stay in hotels or hire cars.
The couple first met in 1992 and the apparent mail tampering began - Green sent Dewes the transcript of a British television documentary on potential safety risks of British nuclear submarines and it arrived with key pages removed.
Dewes' SIS file shows that New Zealand intelligence was already aware of her from her involvement in various peace-protest groups, and she believes Green was under surveillance after leaving the Navy shortly after the Falklands.
They married and Green emigrated to Christchurch in 1999, taking up New Zealand citizenship. Once together, they believe the British took a closer interest. Dewes has involved two serving prime ministers - she recalls a conversation with David Lange in 1993, and also raised concerns with her friend Helen Clark in 2005, who offered police protection.
They have long had powerful allies. A campaign continues in Britain for a commission of inquiry into the Murrell case, led by high-profile human rights barrister Michael Mansfield, who tells the Star-Times he has no doubts of the couple's claims.
"In my view, the evidence amassed by Rob and Kate about interference with their communications is compelling," Mansfield says. "They are highly intelligent and experienced individuals who are not given to flights of fancy or self destruct."
Mansfield says he believes they remain a target because of the need to continue covering up the death of Murrell - and points to the recent revelations that undercover British police had the family of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence under surveillance. He also compares Green and Dewes to Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning: "Truth seekers are always targeted themselves . . . revealing malpractice rarely leads to prosecution of the perpetrators but rather the whistleblowers."
Two veteran Labour MPs, Austin Mitchell and Jeremy Corbyn, have also been steadfast supporters and organised Parliamentary Early Day Motions to support the call for an inquiry and highlight new forensic evidence in Green's latest edition of the book. The latest, on July 3, timed to publicise the book, attracted 36 signatories. A similar petition in the Scots Parliament attracted another 26.
In New Zealand, former Labour leader Phil Goff has done something similar, with 50 Labour, Maori, Green and United Future MPs signing a motion which supported the British campaign for a Commission of Enquiry.
Goss says Green has mounted a "persuasive case" that Andrew George did not kill his aunt. And he has no doubts about the couple (he once appointed Dewes to an advisory committee when he was a minister). "They are certainly not inventing it [the mail tampering]: they have clear evidence. The interference has been done in a way to perhaps send them a message. But I have no idea who might be involved. They are sensible people, not prone to conspiracy theories or paranoia."
Green and Dewes also spoke at the select committee hearings into the GCSB bill; they were on immediately before Kim Dotcom ("We nodded. He knows who we are") and see parallels between their case and his: Green says Dotcom was a victim of a cultural cringe attitude towards assisting the Americans, and they face the same approach with the British. He says it was fantastic he could testify before prime minister John Key: "One of those rare moments where New Zealand is a shining light of democracy and accountability." But then he says New Zealand appears at best powerless, at worst collaborationist in spying by an ally on their soil.
Green told the committee they should install a truly independent panel to vet who is spied upon, and include as a member someone who has had that experience. It would, he says, prevent ‘political' spying on "people because they are left wing and democratically promoting different views to government; we are a democracy. It should be confined to people who are a risk to the nation, not politically embarrassing."
An unsigned file note from papers they have obtained from SIS says: "I am unpersuaded by claims of harassment. The ‘targets' are amateurs whose researches would seem unlikely to have caused any concern in official circles and the claimed actions are of a nature most unlikely to have been perpetrated by any agency of the state. The evidence of victimisation is far from convincing. The events in Christchurch described by Dewes, Green and their families we deem capable of innoncent explanation."
Green is convinced this approach has been adopted by SIS because of pressure on them by the other members of the Five Eyes - the US, Britain, Canada and Australia, who share intelligence - because New Zealand has had a more liberal approach to public information over spying.
Green and Dewes know what people will think. "As if we would make it up," Dewes says. "Who would make this up? I wouldn't put my reputation on the line, and nor would Rob."
Green adds: "And we are bracing ourselves for just that."
- Sunday Star Times