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NFA Protest at Civil Aviation Authority

Media Release

Friday 20 August 1999

Protest at Civil Aviation Authority: shonky investigation looks like it was swayed by lobbying

This morning Native Forest Action campaigners are protesting outside the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in Lower Hutt, to draw attention to questionable connections between the CAA, Timberlands and its PR company Shandwick over a case in which a Native Forest Action treesitter's life was put seriously at risk by the actions of a helicopter pilot.

Native Forest Action will deliver a letter to CAA chief executive officer Kevin Ward. The letter demands that the CAA take responsibility for re-investigating the issue given the evidence brought to light in Secrets and Lies, a book published on Tuesday by Nicky Hager and Bob Burton.

"And we want the Authority to publicly apologise to Native Forest Action and to Jenny Coleman whose life was put at risk, for the way it conducted its original investigation," said NFA spokesperson Dean Baigent-Mercer.

"We are also calling for an independent inquiry into the objectionable way the CAA conducted this very serious case, which we believe to be biased."

Secrets and Lies contains documentary evidence from leaked Timberlands and Shandwick correspondence that the CAA inquiry was influenced by the lobbying efforts of Shandwick.

"I spoke to Martyn Gosling from Civil Aviation.... I got the strong feeling that there are not going to be any problems for you from this inquiry. I was also told that we have to remain silent on this for the time being," Rob McGregor, Shandwick fax to Timberlands, 8 July 1997, stamped 'CONFIDENTIAL'. (pp. 59-60)

The incident, which led to the Native Forest Action complaint to CAA, took place on 16 April 1997 when Timberlands launched an aggressive attack named 'Operation Alien' aimed at clearing the treesitting protesters out of Charleston Forest. Heli-Harvest, Timberlands' heli-logging contractor repeatedly rammed a 5-tonne log, attached to the chopper by a rope, into a treetop platform. Native Forest Action member Jenny Coleman was beneath the tree, preparing to climb, when the tree-top assault started. She ran for her life, as debris and sticks rained down upon her. Her screams were heard and noted in Timberlands' staff diary: "RH, CH and Mat hear woman screaming on ridge 30 metres from platform..."(p. 58)

The CAA eventually concluded (after lobbying by Shandwick) that 'reasonable' steps had been taken to clear the area, and accepted a version of events from the pilot which contradicted all other evidence.

"We feel our complaint was unfairly prejudiced by a shonky investigation and Shandwick's lobbying to get Timberlands off the hook in this. As a result Timberlands and Heli-Harvest have not yet been made to take responsibility for their appalling actions," said Mr Baigent-Mercer.

"We're sure that if it was a family that could have been killed rather than a forest protester this case would have been treated completely differently from the beginning."

"We are extremely angry and upset that Jen's life was put seriously at risk and the obvious conclusions of the investigation were swept under the carpet."

The protest and letter delivery will take place from 8-9am in front of commuter traffic at the Civil Aviation Authority, Aviation House, cnr Market Grove and Woburn Road.

For further information contact: NFA spokesperson Dean Baigent-Mercer 04-383-5168 or 025-2085-288

NB Dean Baigent-Mercer will be available for cellphone interviews on 025-2085-288.

© Scoop Media

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