The Crown Case Kicks Off Against the Urewera 4
The Crown Case Kicks Off Against the Urewera
by Annemarie Thorby
The Crown Case
An `organised criminal group' was operating in te Urewera between 2006 and 2007, the Crown alleged on the opening day of the ``Urewera Four'' trial in Auckland on Monday
The breaking news four and a half years ago was about isolated military-styled training camps hidden in the heart of te Urewera that had been stumbled upon accidentally by hunters. Because of the danger, the police had to take action.
On Monday in the Auckland High Court the Crown said these alleged camps were close to town, a marae, a school, roads and people.
Monday was the first day of evidence against the so-called 'Urewera 4' – the last four people still facing charges from 'Operation Eight'.
That was the 2007 police operation in which police endeavoured to charge 12 people under the Terrorism Suppression Act.
However, the Solicitor General said there was insufficient evidence to establish to the very high standard required that a group was planning to commit a terrorist act as defined in the legislation.
Because no one was charged with terrorism offences under the Terrorism Support Act, the intercepted evidence gathered by the police could not then be used in any court case.
Instead police charged 16 of the people arrested with various Arms Act offences, and one person was charged with cannabis possession.
In October 2008, just over a year after the police raids of 15th October, the four people in court this week were also charged with 'Participation in an Organised Criminal Group', an offence under the Crimes Act.
One other person - Tuhoe Lambert – was also charged, but he died in July 2011.
In September 2011, all of the other defendants had the Arms Act charges against them dropped. Of the original group, there are only four people still facing charges.
The Crown says that the four defendants are part of a group of three or more people who have, as their common objective, serious and violent offences.
Offences defined in NZ law as crimes such as kidnapping and murder.
None of the four have been charged with any violent offences.
Opening the trial Crown prosecutor Ross Burns spent just over an hour and half introducing the prosecution evidence.
Video footage of the camps taken in the paddocks and bush near Ruatoki was introduced.
Mr Burns remarked several times on the perceived military nature of the camps and pointed out in the video evidence that some people were wearing balaclavas, some had scarves wrapped around their faces and some were wearing camouflage clothing.
He also pointed out some people who allegedly had guns and/or Molotov cocktails.
When introducing the evidence Mr Burns said that New Zealand does not prosecute people for political beliefs.
He said the case was 'not about politics.' However he talked of Ngai Tuhoe and Mana Motuhake.
He also explained that one of the defendants was found with a book about the Mexican Zapitista movement and another about Che Guevara and the same defendant had left-wing literature and DVDs.
At one stage Mr Burns also spoke of 'Osama Bin Laden'.
Mr Burns said that the gun mentioned in a conversation between two people was the same type of gun that US Navy Seals used to kill Osama Bin Laden.
Mr Burns also named people who had all the charges against them dropped.
These people were pointed out in the video evidence, quoted from in texts and emails and at least twice, whilst they sat in the public section of the court, Mr Burns pointed one of these people out to the jury.
Mr Burns also spoke about the late Tuhoe Lambert, Mr Lambert was one of the people charged with 'Participation in an Organised Group' but proceedings were stayed after his death.
In court the Crown alleged Mr Lambert was a key person in the criminal group and was the training officer.
Mr Burn also alleged that the others charged also had roles in the 'organised criminal group'. Tame Iti was the chief, and Urs Signer and Emily Bailey were the Wellington co-ordinators.
The afternoon began with each of the four defence lawyers making a brief statement to the jury.
Tame Iti's lawyer, Russell Fairbrother, said he only had three points to stress at this early stage.
Firstly, that Tame Iti is a known activist in this country, a man committed to Mana Motuhake.
Secondly, that the jury needed to carefully and critically assess all the evidence the prosecution presented.
An example of evidence presented earlier in the day was cited by Mr Fairbrother.
At one stage during the morning, the Crown Prosecutor Mr Burns had read an excerpt from an email, an email that he said appeared to be between Tame Iti and a man from Christchurch.
However, Mr Fairbrother read out more from the email, and a second one between the same two people, and Mr Fairbrother said it was apparent that Tame Iti was not one of the two people.
Thirdly, Mr Fairbrother told the jury that this case is about two worlds – the Pakeha world and the Maori world.
Rangikaiwhiria Kemara's lawyer, Jeremy Bioletti, told the jury no violent offence had been committed and normally those charged with participation in a criminal group are arrested after the objective (the offence) has been committed.
He pointed out that with no serious violent offences actually occurring, it would be difficult for the jury to establish whether there was any common objective.
He said what people in the camps were doing is open to different interpretations.
Urs Signer's lawyer, Christopher Stevenson, also asked that the jury to keep an open mind.
He introduced his client to them and reminded the jury that this charge and trial is extremely important for Urs and what would be showed in court was only a snippet of Urs' life during the time of Operation 8 and Urs was out of the country for one third of the so-called camps.
Mr Stevenson further asked why the police had surveillance on a young activist and other 'like-minded' people.
He questioned whether there was even a group with a common objective, and used the term Waananga rather than camp to describe the meetings around Ruatoki.
The last lawyer to speak was Emily Bailey's.
Val Nesbit said that Emily was innocent of all charges. She is motivated to fight oppression and abusive power. That she is in fact anti-war, not pro-war.
The first prosecution witness took the stand on the afternoon. Inspector Jago, a policeman who, during Operation 8, was in charge of organising the placement of surveillance cameras on Ngai Tuhoe land. Each camera was carefully identified by the officer.
The case continues.
Annemarie Thorby is a teacher, activist and freelance writer accredited to cover the Operation 8 trial for Scoop.co.nz