Bittersweet vindication for iwi

SIMON DAY AND ADAM DUDDING
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2013
Allan Titford
ALLAN TITFORD: Sentenced to 24 years' jail on 39 charges.

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Moengaroa Murray bristles when she hears the land that runs from the ridgeline road to the white sand beach on the Far North's Kauri Coast referred to as the "Titford farm".

She fought for 13 years at the Waitangi Tribunal to have the spiritually significant site returned to her Te Roroa people. All the while Allan Titford manipulated the public against the iwi for his personal gain.

"There were some things that went on that weren't so pleasant and it affected families. She [Titford's wife, Susan Cochrane] got the worst of it," said Murray, who is the acting senior iwi manager of Te Roroa.

Last week the truth about Titford was exposed in the Whangarei District Court when he was sentenced to 24 years in prison for 39 charges including assault, sexual violation, arson and fraud.

His former wife, Cochrane, turned down name suppression so Titford's lies and abuse could be revealed.

It was found he had burnt down his own home in 1992, but had blamed it on local Maori to increase his claim to compensation from the government. Te Roroa Maori hope this is a chance for their story to be told and the claims of harassment, terrorism, and sabotage exposed as lies.

Titford bought the 688-hectare farm, 50km north of Dargaville, for $600,000 in 1986 with plans to subdivide. But a Maori claim to the 36ha Manuwhetai site scared away potential buyers and he claimed he was forced to sell to the Crown for $3.25 million in 1995.

But not before he had attacked sacred Maori historic sites, including bulldozing a preserved pa, claimed he was discriminated against by the Crown because he was white, and accused Te Roroa of occupying "his" land, rustling his stock and damaging his bulldozer.

Until last week's revelations the public were still leaving comments online supporting Titford's position.

"All the provenance was given to their views. Anything we had to say was just dismissed out of hand, the perception was such that we were the nasties, all the negative was laid on us," said Alex Nathan, who along with Murray is the last of the Te Roroa Treaty negotiators.

"At the time that was hurtful but we weren't given an opportunity to put an alternative point of view. There wasn't a mood to listen to what we were saying," he said.

Titford became a spokesman for apparently honest farmers having land stolen by apparently greedy Maori. He fed into a racist sentiment that turned many New Zealanders against Maori.

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"There is a current just beneath the surface that is quite racist and it doesn't take much to reveal it," said Nathan.

"Titford represents the extreme end of the spectrum. It is very easy for someone if they are noisy enough to stir a response from the generality."

Looking across the rolling farmland and forest returned to Te Roroa or bought with the government settlement payment in 2005, Nathan believes they have been liberated of Titford's claims that saw them labelled terrorists and gangsters. But, after more than 20 years of public and political battles, the relief is bittersweet.

"We have been vindicated. At a personal level, I suppose I have some level of satisfaction, but I take no joy from it."

Susan Cochrane wrote a letter to Te Roroa in 2010, apologising for her part in the vilification of the local Maori. She apologised again last week for the bitterness she helped to create against her will. This meant a lot to the iwi.

Ironically, Titford's conviction provides little closure for those who continue to support him.

Don Harrison, 75, was Titford's neighbour and supporter on the Maunganui bluff. Part of his land was also subject to the Te Roroa claim and he sold his farm to the government in 1993 for $100,000. He keeps the diary in a plastic bag, with August 19, 1993, marked with "signed away the farm".

At his new farm in the Tangowahine valley on the road to Kaikohe, a four-wheel-drive sits in the driveway decorated with stickers claiming Titford is a political prisoner and the government as "corrupt to the core". He claims private land was confiscated by Crown pandering to false claims by Maori.

He was one of the only people in the public gallery at Titford's hearing and says Cochrane has been persuaded to join a conspiracy against her former husband, and her children have been brainwashed.

"Susan has been influenced to do what she's done. I've heard this woman who is apparently so scared of Titford give as good as she got," he said.

He continues to believe that Maori are given rights Pakeha don't have and that the fight for private land against Maori claims is not over. "This is only an episode in the saga," he said.

TURNING BACK THE RACIST TIDE

He was a figurehead for Treaty of Waitangi critics. But it's now time to address the damage done to race relations by Allan Titford's lies and treachery against Maori, reports Adam Dudding 

As Judge Duncan Harvey sentenced Allan Titford to 24 years' jail, he said it was time for New Zealanders "to learn the truth" about a man who had become a symbol of the perceived failings of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process.

Far from being a victim of unruly local Maori who meant to cheat him of his Northland property in the early 1990s, Titford was a manipulative liar who, aside from his crimes against immediate family, had burned down his own house in an attempt to earn sympathy and to blacken the name of the Te Roroa iwi.

But it's not only ordinary Kiwis who were fooled by Titford. Over the years, his name became a rallying cry to a range of prominent Treaty sceptics, and led to important changes to Treaty law. Echoes of that cry persist.

In July, the Centre for Political Research (NZCPR), founded by former Act MP Muriel Newman, released a document, Treaty Transparency, which uncritically repeated Titford's allegations of vandalism by iwi, though Newman said she wrote only the document's foreword, and wasn't familiar with the finer details.

Titford also attended public meetings held this year by John Ansell, the man who devised National's infamous Iwi/Kiwi election billboards and now vigorously campaigns against the "Maorification" of New Zealand.

Further left-field still, Titford has featured in the writings of "astro-archaeologist" Martin Doutre, who is best known for his much-derided theories about Celt settlers predating Maori in New Zealand.

Granted, this is pretty fringe stuff, but 20 years ago Titford was a household name, and his battles with Te Roroa earned him regular media attention. ("My whole family has been held to ransom for six years . . . ", he told North & South magazine in 1993.)

Part of the reason most of us had forgotten him, suggests Otago Law professor Andrew Geddis, is that in New Zealand race relations, 20 years is a long, long time.

IN THE mid-1980s, the Labour government made it possible to consider claims dating back to 1840. The Te Roroa claim "was one of the very early cases where the Waitangi Tribunal did that, and it came out quite clearly that the Te Roroa iwi had been badly treated by the Crown."

Back then, says Geddis, the Waitangi Tribunal hadn't built up the credibility it now has, so when Te Roroa's claim included 38 hectares of the farm Titford had been hoping to subdivide, his resistance became a lightning rod for "alternative historians" and others who saw the Treaty settlement process as unjust.

Somehow, Titford was cast as the victim of a "wide-ranging conspiracy, linked in the Te Roroa people, the Waitangi Tribunal, various ministers of the Crown, the police and so on", says Geddis.

Titford was a vigorous lobbyist. Newman says he first approached her when she was in Parliament "but he possibly approached most MPs".

Every movement needs a symbol, says Geddis, and Titford was two for the price of one: he was an "ordinary" Kiwi who'd had his land taken from him by the state to appease Maori, and he was also an apparent victim of Maori aggression, as his farm suffered arson and vandalism.

Twenty years ago, says Geddis, Treaty settlements seemed new and frightening, and no one knew where it might lead. "In hindsight, though, you'd have to say that, frankly, a lot of people lost perspective."

We now know Titford's woes were concocted, but Geddis suspects this will have little impact on those who put Titford at the centre of their anti-Treaty worldview: "Some people still think there's life on Mars . . . People will believe what they believe."

Ansell certainly isn't deserting Titford. He told Fairfax Media he had doubts about Titford's convictions, and suspected he may have been "fitted up by the state" because he was such an "irritant" to government.

Former National Party leader Don Brash, whose short-lived political successes of 2004-05 were based largely on a speech in which he said New Zealand needed to be purged of race-based legislation, says he had been well aware of Titford's case when writing the "Orewa" speech.

"It was a celebrated [case], as we thought he had been a victim of intimidation. It turns out that was not the case at all."

Titford wasn't exactly a poster boy, says Brash, "but certainly he was a person that most people who were concerned about the Treaty were aware of. But we had a totally wrong idea of his situation."

Brash, too, doesn't believe Titford's fall from grace will derail the Waitangi Tribunal's critics.

"The Treaty is an important issue. Titford is an unfortunate example of someone who used that issue to his own benefit."

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira says Titford's deceit caused lasting damage to Maori. Titford's "bluff and bluster, arson, fraud and mischief" paved the way for the Bolger government to pass a law preventing the return of any privately owned land to Maori as part of Treaty settlements.

The result, says Harawira is the "paltry restitution we see today", with a "proforma" apology to an iwi, meagre transfer of token land blocks and "pitiful" cash payments.

"It would be nice to think someone would say, 20 years on, that: 'We got it wrong'," Harawira says.

Geddis does see one positive amid the fuss over Titford's fresh notoriety. Once, Titford, with his fantasies of threatening Maori and swindling government, seemed to be saying something important.

"Now we have to go back and jog our memories to see what the fuss was about - which means we've come a long way."

FACTFILE

When Northland businessman Allan Titford stood for mayor, the fact he had raped, beaten and terrorised his wife and family for 24 years was hidden under the cloak of suppression.

He ran his campaign from his prison cell while awaiting sentence – and received votes from 414 people, none of whom, presumably, knew he was waiting to be sentenced on crimes of rape, arson and assault.

Victims of sexual assaults are not allowed to be identified, and naming Titford would automatically link him to his former wife.

But Susan Cochrane waived her right to suppression, and the veil was lifted. 

- Sunday Star Times

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