Apology for protest arrests 12 years ago

16:00, Nov 17 2009
VINTAGE STUDENT ACTION: Police and student protesters face off in the grounds of Parliament in September 1997.  The students were demonstrating about education policy.
VINTAGE STUDENT ACTION: Police and student protesters face off in the grounds of Parliament in September 1997. The students were demonstrating about education policy.

Twelve years on, 41 former student protesters who were arrested and subjected to police abuses have received apologies and $150,000 in compensation.

The protesters, who settled a 12-year legal wrangle out of court in July, have now received apologies from Police Commissioner Howard Broad and Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith. It is the first apology issued from the Speaker's office.

The students were arrested, and some held overnight. Some alleged mistreatment including assault and rough handling. All were unsuccessfully prosecuted for trespass.

Human rights lawyer Tony Ellis, who represented the students, called the apologies a milestone. "It's a day to be remembered in the history of civil rights in New Zealand."

The 75 Victoria University students were arrested after Speaker of the House Doug Kidd issued a trespass notice as they protested against education policy in 1997.

Among them were Labour MP Chris Hipkins and Liam Hockings, who said the apologies were crucial in reaching a settlement.

Advertisement

"The key thing in this stalemate ... was the apology. It's not really about money, it's about the symbolic apology that says 'I shouldn't have been arrested for doing nothing more than protesting'," Mr Hipkins said.

Their case had set a precedent, ensuring protesters' freedom, the men said.

"If you look at what happened this afternoon [at yesterday's "bikoi"] we had 6000 to 7000 motorcyclists ... the security here made sure that they could all get into the grounds, they were being safe in the grounds, that they all had places to park. There's a real recognition of the fact that this is the place that people can come and protest," Mr Hipkins said.

The events of 1997 spurred him into politics. "It was certainly a defining moment for me."

Both men received about $5000 in compensation, allocated according to the severity of abuse suffered.

Mr Smith apologised for "any distress ... experienced as a result of the events" and said new parliamentary procedures – which resulted from the students' legal action – continued to be followed.

Mr Broad similarly apologised and said police procedures had "developed significantly" since 1997.

Protesters' spokesman Graham Howell said

the case had no legal aid, and Mr Ellis had finally received payment for his 12 years' work, deducting $50,000 from the $200,000 compensation.

The Dominion Post