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Waihopai Ploughshares Trial - The Defence Case

Waihopai Ploughshares Trial - The Defence Case & Conclusion

By Bryan Law of
See also… Scoop Editor's Note on Bryan Law's Coverage

The Jury in the Waihopai Ploughshares case was sent out to consider its verdict at 3.45 pm Wellington time on Wed 17 March 2010. The returned to deliver their verdict just two hours later.

Not Guilty for all defendants on all charges.

The judge thanked the jury for doing their duty and discharged them. The court was packed, and when the defendants were allowed to leave the dock, the public gallery erupted into vigorous applause. The same applause was given the jury when they were leaving the court.

I wrote about the prosecution closing arguments earlier for Scoop see… Waihopai Ploughshares Trio Acquitted On Charges

Here's my story about the defence closings, and the Judges summing up.


Adrian (Adi) Leason

Mike Knowles (for Adrian Leason) kicked of for the defence in his quiet, understated manner.

"In nearly 35 years of doing this job I can't think of a case where I've felt more redundant. After the compelling, eloquent way these defendants have shared their stories, anything I say is a pale imitation." Which might have been true if he was telling their stories again, but of course he wasn't. He was casting their testimony into the framework of law, and building a case for acquittal.

He began by agreeing with the prosecutor that the defendants were "three good men". He said to the jury, "you don't have to agree with them; with their politics, religion or lifestyles, but you might accept that these things give them a clarity of vision in their love and compassion for others: that we all might be able to feel this love and compassion for family members and friends, but these men feel it for strangers and even people far away. They see love and compassion more enduringly and more deeply than we do"

"When the prosecutor asks you to believe that they didn't have an actual belief, but only a hope (that their actions were lawful) he is asking you to ignore the exceptional beliefs these men live out in their lives". Mr Knowles then dealt with the technical issues around claim of right, and established that the jury must believe or disbelieve the defendants based on the evidence. "Go to the evidence," he said.

The defendants went to a lot of trouble to find out about Waihopai and what it did as a US base serving US interests. Peter Murnane sought info from the GCSB, but was rebuffed. Katharine Gun has given evidence that Echelon was spying on the UN. In the face of official stone-walling about security issues, "what's left for the people to do?"

So much for the prosecutors chief argument. I felt then we were heading for acquittal.

Then he pushed a hot button (and I paraphrase a little):

"Have you noticed an absence in this trial? Where is the GCSB? The farmer whose fence was damaged has had to give evidence. Where is the GCSB? Are they too important to be called as witnesses? In nearly 35 years I've never known a case where a property owner wasn't called to give evidence. Is there a bit of class justice going on here. Either we're all subject to the law, or we're not.

"The history and network of ploughshares actions gave the defendants more than a hope, it was a belief based on direct knowledge. Go to the evidence.

"They acted in a moderate and restrained way. They knew there'd be a contest in court. They follow a higher law. They hoped to save a life. They know they can't end war alone.

"This action is a call to the rest of us to help in a little way.

"I do not see how you can come to any verdict other than Not Guilty on all charges. That verdict of Not Guilty will sound a message about NZ sovereignty and independence. It will sound an answer to these men's plea to stop war".



Peter Murnane

Fr Peter Murnane briefly rehearsed the horrors of war and US war-fighting, and then he said that the jury could check their beliefs from the interview he'd given police on the morning of 30 April.

That he was saying the same thing then as he had been saying throughout the trial. Their beliefs were long-held and genuine, not concocted for the court hearing.

"We believe [this horror] was happening in 2008. We believe it is happening now. We had to do what we can to stop it.

"The ABC [Anti-Bases Campaign] has been trying for 20 years to close the base, and it has proved futile."

"I do believe that, on evidence, the base is involved in evil. Therefore I acted with friends, and we cut down the dome. Not to act against these things would be complicity with war crimes. If you believe that you must acquit us."


Sam Land

Antony Shaw (for Sam Land) pointed immediately to the evidence, first to Sam's clear statement in his own words that, "I held a belief that my actions were lawful when I did what I did". "That's a defence" said Mr Shaw.

"If you believe:

(1) That Sam Land held a belief;

(2) It was a genuine belief, not a sham belief; and

(3) He believed his actions were lawful;

then you must acquit".

There's support for this in the evidence of Sam Land, Ciaron O'Reilly, and Jim Consedine.

Both professional Counsel discussed the principles of, "beyond reasonable doubt", with the onus of proof lying on the prosecution. Adi, Peter and Sam didn't have the prove their genuine belief - the prosecution had to disprove it to a high standard.


Judge Harrop's Summing Up

In his summing up the judge said the same thing (as had the prosecutor earlier). Judge Harrop enshrined the question at the core of this case, and gave this question to the jury in bold letters in his Instructional Memorandum:

"Am I sure that the accused DID NOT genuinely believe that his actions on 30 April 2008 were lawful?"

If the answer to this question is YES, then you must find the defendants Guilty.

If the answer is NO, then you must find the defendents Not Guilty."

The jury went out at 3.45 pm to do its work. I'd been growing in confidence all afternoon.



It was clear the defendants were men of integrity, faith and compassion. At the end of the trial they still had a defence standing, which means the jury had an opportunity to acquit. The prosecution didn't seem strong in its attack on the claim of right, and the jury was clearly engaged with the material. Surely they must acquit.

But always there's the niggling doubt "will they". Well now we know the answer, and it gives me hope for the future.

After the verdict I went to the celebration Party at the Leason farm outside Otaki. More hope. More love. More faith.

You have a wonderful and very civilised country here. Get out into the world, and respond to the call of the Waihopai Ploughshares.

No more war!




Scoop extends its thanks to Bryan Law for his coverage of the Waihopai Three Trial. It is a sad indictment of the state of the New Zealand media that no established mainstream New Zealand media covered this trial professionally from start to finish. As a result the record of the trial written by Bryan Law - an Australian activist and blogger - and published on Scoop over the past two weeks is the only comprehensive media coverage of the trial available for the public to gain an insight into what happened in the courtroom in this very significant case.

The following links are a complete set of the trial reports as published by Scoop and written (for the most part - except for day 4) by Bryan Law. Day 4's report was sourced from Indymedia becayse as a result of a misunderstanding of New Zealand court reporting rules Mr Law was barred from reporting on day 4 by the Judge.

After a written request from, on day 5 Judge Harrop reversed his decision on the basis that Scoop would supervise and check Mr Law's reports before publication.

While Mr Law's perspective is that of an activist and not of a dispassionate reporter it is nevertheless a comprehensive report on what happened in the trial.

- Alastair Thompson (Scoop Co-Editor)

Waihopai Ploughshares Trio Acquitted On Charges - Day 8
At 3.45pm on Wednesday 17 March 2010 - St Patrick's Day - the jury in the Waihopai Ploughshares trial retired to consider its verdict..
Today we have heard closing addresses from the Prosecutor, Mr Marshall, Defence Counsel Mr Knowles and Mr Shaw, and self represented defendent Fr Murnane. Then Judge Harrop summed up and directed the jury. It was an impressive array of legal talent

Bryan Law: Waihopai Ploughshares Trial - Day 7
It seems an age ago, but the Waihopai defendants finished their personal testimony only last Friday 12 March. The time since has been spent in legal discussion and decision-making by the Judge and legal Counsel.

(note: Day 6 was entirely taken up by in chambers legal argument.)

Bryan Law: Waihopai Ploughshares Trial - Day 5
The testimony and cross-examination of the Waihopai defendents is complete. Defence counsel are well pleased so far. Adi Leason enlivened the jury. Peter Murnane educated them. Sam Land loved and honoured them.

(note: Day 4's report, below, was not written By Bryan Law and was sourced from a report posted on Indymedia)

Day Four – Waihopai Ploughshares Trial
The day began with Adi Leason under continued cross examination from the Crown. The prosecutor set about seeking admission from Adi that the action was not about stopping the satellite dishes from working thus slowing the pace of the war in Iraq but merely ...

Waihopai Ploughshares Trial: Day Three
In Court, Adi Leason re-commenced his testimony where it’d been interrupted by the power failure on Tuesday. His Counsel Mike Knowles by asking him “When and how you decided the work of Waihopai base was so important to you that you had to ...

Waihopai Ploughares Trial: Day Two
The whole morning today, and part of the afternoon was taken up with legal argument. The Court was closed, the jury confined to their room, during this process. Because of sub judice rules (and their technical nature) I’m not going to describe here ...

Day One of the Waihopai Ploughshares trial
Around 100 people from Wellington gathered at the Cenotaph next to Parliament house, with banners and signs and an abundance of goodwill. At 9 am we all processed to the District Court building and sang in support of the 3 defendants.


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