Police meeting to address marae visit

Elders from Stratford's Whakaahurangi Marae are to meet with police to discuss the events of last weekend when police entered the marae at 2am awaking 25 children sleeping there.

Police went onto the marae while investigating the assault of a 61-year-old man which had occurred close to the marae.

Marae elders say the children were photographed by police and they were asked to hold out their hands.

They have officially complained to the Independent Police Complaints Authority which confirmed yesterday it would be investigating.

The way the incident was handled by police was criticised yesterday by a children's criminal law expert and a Taranaki Youth Court lawyer.

An expert in children's criminal law, Professor Mark Henaghan, from the University of Otago, said if the incident police were investigating was a true emergency, such as someone's life was at risk, then they had a lot more leeway under the law.

But if there was time, police should work through parents and guardians to ensure the interviews with children, who were very vulnerable in such situations, were done appropriately - as was required under the Children Young Persons and their Families Act.

And if this was not carried out correctly, courts could reject evidence, Henaghan said.

"Courts frown on it when the evidence was seen to be unfairly obtained," he said.

"Unless it was a scenario where you thought someone's life was at risk and it was the only way you could save someone's life but as a general principle no."

Extreme emergencies were different but were very rare.

And consent must be given to take photos, he said.

As for going onto the marae, he said police should always treat people with dignity and that was a basic human right.

"They are acting on behalf of all of us, and if they don't respect people's cultures then that sends a message it is all right to treat certain people with disrespect."

Taranaki defence and Youth Court lawyer Paul Keegan agreed that when children were interviewed by police there needed to be a caregiver or parent present.

Added to that, the situation occurred at night and in a marae which had other cultural sensitivities, such as removing shoes, that allegedly had not been observed.

It was a balancing exercise for police - who were investigating a relatively serious crime - but they may not have got it right on the night, Keegan said.

A meeting between the parties to address the issues was entirely appropriate, Keegan said.

Marae spokeswoman Lovey Read yesterday said Senior Sergeant Darin Haenga, of the Stratford police, contacted them on Thursday to ask for a meeting.

This would take place next week. Details were still being decided.

The marae elders have been seeking legal guidance in respect of several laws they believe may have been broken by police during the event.

They would also be looking at having a separate legal representative at the meeting with police, to represent the children, Read said.

Meanwhile, MP for Taranaki Chester Borrows said he had met with both marae elders and spoken with Haenga.

"It was obvious and refreshing to me that both sides want to get around the table and talk things out. Both the senior sergeant and the kaumatua at the marae made it quite plain they didn't want to upset the good relationship they've had in the past and want to find a way through."

He said he had been involved in similar situations in the past where both sides were able to work out a positive way forward.

Read said they had received a flurry of calls from national and Maori media since the Taranaki Daily News broke the story on Thursday.

Taranaki Daily News