Operation 8: The Four Year Battle in the Courts

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

On 15th October 2007 seventeen were arrested, than another two, then another one. Twenty in all. First it was to be terrorism and arms charges, then just arms charges, then the arms charges plus a criminal group charge against some of them. Back and forth it went in the courts until on 2nd September 2011 the Supreme Court disallowed vital evidence against all but four. On 6th December 2011 the Police dropped all charges against everyone but those four. The “Urewera Four” went to trial in February 2012. It all happened mostly suppressed and out of the public eye. This is the story of those four years.

The trial of the Urewera Four will be covered in the next post.

The Auckland Special Intelligence Group of the NZ Police began gathering information about Jamie Lockett and his alleged terrorist leanings in May 2006. Their attention shifted to Taame Iti and his wananga in the Urewera in September 2006. The Police paramilitary operation, known as the Urewera Raids, went down on 15th October 2007.

That was just the beginning. A legal battle was fought in the District Courts, the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court for more than another four years before four of the original twenty accused finally went to trial in February 2012. Two of the four received prison sentences and two received home detention. The whole thing lasted for nearly six years not including the time the “Urewera Four” spent serving out their sentences.

In this post I detail and explain that battle through the courts. I followed it closely as it happened. The public was not able to do that because most of the court hearings and judgements were suppressed.

Throughout this time there were bail hearings and bail variation hearings concerning the twenty original accused, too numerous to follow, and I mention just a few of them. There were quite a few more court hearings than the ones I describe as well. These are the significant ones.

This is how it unfolded.

15th October 2007

The day of the “raids” and the day 17 people were arrested and detained.

20th October 2007 – Sunday Star Times

Just five days after the arrests and in the midst of much media speculation this article appeared in the Sunday News. In itself it was not part of the legal process, which is the subject of this post. However it shows how the Police were attempting to drive public perceptions and opinion, which is an abuse of justice and legal process.

The source for this sensationalised and completely false interpretation of the information collected by the Police could only have been someone closely connected to the operation. I am 98% sure that I know the identity of the source.

A highly-placed source said police launched last week’s anti-terror raids after recording secret video footage of splinter groups carrying out combined military-style training and talking of “wreaking havoc” throughout New Zealand in imminent attacks.

“If this got off the ground, it would have been a multi-pronged campaign launched simultaneously against a number of individuals and targets. It would have been crippling,?” the source revealed.

“But it is the information provided by Sunday News’ source within the operation which is most shocking.

 “Each different splinter group was training under the one umbrella and they were going to carry out attacks on targets and infrastructure,” said our source.

“You would have had Tuhoe carrying out attacks on their selected targets, animal rights groups targeting their lot and the so-called `peace freaks’ carrying out their acts.

“There were a number of different groups at the table. They were going to wreak havoc according to their own agendas. They were going after a broad spectrum and broad range of targets.

“There were prominent Maori who they’d call Uncle Toms including heads of government departments and those who’d used the system to get ahead.”

The police source scoffed at claims the raids, by about 300 officers, were racially motivated.

“Half those arrested are Pakeha,” he said.

Our source said activist groups’ terror-attack plans were firmly in place.

“They were pretty well advanced in what they were planning to do,” he said.

“They were not of the sophistication of the IRA or Bader Meinhoff (German Red Army) but they were technologically more aware than the likes of the terrorists in Rhodesia Zebra and Zanu.”

Police footage of the groups training in the backblocks of the Bay of Plenty, going through military-style manoeuvring, showed their deadly intent.

“The training is the stuff soldiers spend weeks of build-up on before they use live rounds,” he said. “There is also footage of the group patrolling in military formation through the bush, wearing camouflage and balaclavas.

“There is no mistaking what they were doing.”

That was the extreme version of the Police terrorism narrative.

6th November 2007

Rangi Kemara and Tuhoe Lambert fail in their attempt in the Court of Appeal to have name suppression after earlier attempts in the District and High Courts.

8th November 2007

The Solicitor General declined to allow prosecutions to proceed under the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002.

9th November 2007

Taame Iti released on bail. Other accused also bailed shortly after.

14th November 2007

The Police affidavit seeking warrants for the 15th October operation was leaked to the media. This could only have come from the Police or someone close to the Police.

27th November 2007

The US Embassy in Wellington sent a cable to Washington that included this:

“New Zealand Police have told post that they expect those charged to escape incarceration and likely to pay only a fine”.

The Police knew, even at that early stage and months before the defence lawyers began to challenge the legality of the operation and despite what they were saying in the media, that their case was built on shaky ground. They had needed to use the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002 to legalise their otherwise illegal surveillance.

4th December 2007

The accused were remanded on bail until March 2008. The bail conditions were very restrictive and included non-association orders and orders to prevent travel to Ruatoki.

20th December 2007

Solicitor General advises a defence lawyer of his intent to bring charges of contempt against Fairfax Media for publishing leaked Police affidavit.

8th February 2008

An application made to the High Court for suppression of photos of two defendants. Not successful.

10th April 2008

Contempt charges laid against Fairfax Media. Not successful.

17th April 2008

Two more arrests in relation to attendance at wananga.

May 2008

Taame Iti granted permission by High Court to travel to Europe to perform in “Tempest” production, after he had been denied by District Court. This was an indication that the High Court perception of the seriousness of the charges was changing.

14th August 2008

Another arrest. Total now 20. Police still pursuing their original narrative despite knowing that it was unravelling.

22nd August 2008

High Court ordered Police to hand over to the defence all of the intercept warrants for the operation. Police fought very hard not to hand them over, for the warrants were later shown to be illegal.

4th September 2008

Depositions hearings for 18 of the accused in the High Court. Hearings lasted for over a month. All were charged with multiple offences under the Arms Act.

17th September 2008

Prosecution indicates new charges of participation in a criminal group likely.

3rd October 2008

Last submissions made in depositions hearing.

17th October 2008

After two weeks deliberation High Court delivers decisions from depositions hearing. 17 of the accused to face trial on arms charges. Some of the charges were disallowed but most allowed. Accused remanded until “callover” on 17th February 2009.

30th October 2008

Prosecution announces that 5 of the accused would be charged with participation in a criminal group (Taame Iti, Tuhoe Lambert, Rangi Kemara, Urs Signer & Emily Bailey). The depositions hearing had showed up defects in the prosecution case.

This charge was the beginning of the legal strategy to ensure that at least those five would eventually face trial. In September 2011 the Supreme Court declared much of the evidence inadmissible but allowed it to be produced in support of the criminal group charge against the remaining four accused, the “Urewera Four”. That was the express purpose of the criminal group charge; a legal manoeuvre.

The Police and prosecution had known that their case was not on solid ground since the terrorism charges were disallowed in November 2007. They indicated as much to the US Embassy in that month.

All 18 of the accused were still charged under the Arms Act.

15th May 2009

Another bail hearing at which restrictions were relaxed and the accused was required to report to Police just three times a year. This decision indicated that the courts no longer subscribed to the extreme claims of the Police narrative.

June 2009

Applications drawn up by defence lawyers to be filed at the High Court in August to have case thrown out.

June 2009

Rodney Harrison QC prepares case challenging the legality of the Operation 8 warrants.

9th September 2009

High Court declares a number of the warrants illegal and evidence obtained under those warrants inadmissible. Some warrants and evidence allowed to stand. This was a defining moment in the defence case.

During this hearing the Police admitted that they knew that the warrants were not lawful, yet proceeded anyway.

16th September 2009

Harrison QC makes new submission to High Court challenging remaining warrants and evidence.

19th October 2009

Applications made in High Court for a stay of proceedings. Not successful.

27th October 2009

Further stay applications to High Court, Not successful.

28th October 2009

Harrison QC indicates he will take his application to rule evidence inadmissible as far as Supreme Court if necessary.

29th and 30th October 2009

High Court hearings continue.

14th December 2009

Prosecution application to High Court to allow certain evidence.

15th December 2009

High Court ruling on additional challenge to warrants by Harrison QC. Not allowed.

18th December 2009

Another bail rollover hearing.

22nd December 2009

Prosecution’s application to High Court to readmit inadmissible evidence refused.

28th May 2010

Harrison QC submits application to Court of Appeal.

9th June 2010

Court of Appeal hearing re warrants and inadmissible evidence. Two day hearing. Decision reserved.

24th June 2010

Court of Appeal disallows Harrison QC’s application re admissibility of evidence.

7th January 2011

Application to Court of Appeal to overturn High Court ruling (after prosecution application) that trial to be by judge alone.

28th March 2011

An appeal to Supreme Court re admissibility of evidence allowed.

April 2011

Court of Appeal confirm trial by judge alone.

6th May 2011

Supreme Court hearing into admissibility of evidence. Three day hearing.

8th July 2011

Defendant Tuhoe Lambert dies.

22nd August 2011

A hearing by the Supreme Court re judge alone trial delayed until 14th September 2011.

2nd September 2011

Supreme Court rules on evidence. Evidence ruled inadmissable for all accused except the remaining four on the criminal group charge. This was the decision that the prosecution expected and had prepared for by bringing the criminal group charge, originally against five of the accused.

6th September 2011

Prosecution drops charges against all (13) except the four on criminal group charge.

12th and 13th September 2011

Prosecution application to High Court to have suppressed evidence, including the leaked affidavit, released to the media. Affidavit suppressed but video evidence released. Partial lifting of suppression orders.

15th September 2011

Amended indictment against “Urewera Four” presented in High Court.

September 2011

At about the same time as all of this activity the Police and prosecution dropped their efforts to have a trial by judge alone and agreed to trial by jury.

24th November 2011

Further applications by defence lawyers to High Court to stay proceedings denied.

February 2012

Trial of “Urewera Four” proceeds.

This is not a complete record of court hearings. I have noted several attempts by defence lawyers to have proceedings stayed and the cases thrown out. There were many more throughout the four year period, all of them unsuccessful. There were also other court hearings initiated by the prosecution as the two sides battled over evidence and procedure.

I have listed the main hearings and legal manoeuvres to demonstrate the intensity of the legal battle. Most of the proceedings and decisions were suppressed at the time and this legal battle was fought out of the public eye.

The trial of the “Urewera Four” will be analysed in a later post.

Links: The Operation 8 Series