Key felt he was 'totally safe' on Ruatoki trip

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 23/05/2013

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John Key's security detail deemed it safe for him to visit Ruatoki two months before the Urewera raids despite police believing an attack was imminent.

An independent report released yesterday condemned police for acting unlawfully during the 2007 Urewera raids but said the decision to take action was justifiable.

Mr Key visited the area as leader of the Opposition at the invitation of Tuhoe that August.

The diplomatic protection squad, the police unit in charge of security for the prime minister and other dignitaries, deemed it safe for him to visit.

"You'd have to say it's a little odd, given that one of the potential people that the threat was against was myself," Mr Key said yesterday.

However, he felt "totally safe".

Mr Key said it was right that police had apologised and the Government was getting advice on whether it should do the same or compensation should be paid, but the latter was unlikely.

"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 the public had to back the police and this was a significant operation that resulted in people being sent to jail.

"The police, I think, genuinely believed that they were investigating a matter that could have involved domestic terrorism."

Labour Party police spokesman Kris Faafoi called on police to implement all of the report's recommendations and said it was unacceptable innocent people were unnecessarily frightened.

Labour was in government at the time of the raids but the police minister of the time, Annette King, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Greens were more damning, saying a dramatic overhaul of police culture was still needed.

"Would the police have raided Remuera in Auckland, or Khandallah in Wellington in the same way," their police spokesman, Dave Clendon, asked.

It was not OK to "descend like masked ninjas" and ride roughshod over the rights of Ruatoki people, Mr Clendon said.

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira called for heads to roll.

"I would start with [police commissioner] Peter Marshall for his bullshit apology ... Annette King, as the-then Labour minister of police, should resign from Parliament.

"The order came from the top and, with Helen Clark gone, she is next in line."

Maori Party Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell said the damage done to the relationship between Maori and police had been under-stated.

"It's a weird day in a democracy when a report into Operation Eight identifies police actions that were contrary to law, unjustified and unreasonable, and the grand remedy is to amend the police manual."

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Police Minister Anne Tolley said she had been assured police had learnt valuable lessons from the events and had already made significant changes.

- The Dominion Post

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