A nation divided: Inside the Urewera Four trial

By Geoff Cumming, Catherine Masters

Tame Iti and his colleagues weren't the only ones on trial for the past five weeks. The terrorism claims in the still-unresolved Urewera case have revealed deep divisions over Maori and Pakeha world views and state surveillance in the name of public safety.

Tame Iti, Urs Signer, Emily Felicity Bailey and Te Rangikaiwhiria were on trial in the High Court in Auckland. Picture / NZ Herald
Tame Iti, Urs Signer, Emily Felicity Bailey and Te Rangikaiwhiria were on trial in the High Court in Auckland. Picture / NZ Herald

Mid-summer 2007 and a Pathfinder 4WD makes its way into the Urewera forest. Tuhoe activist Tame Iti is the driver. With him is a personal trainer and two teenage brothers, asked along to help demonstrate kick-boxing and general fitness to a group at a wananga organised by Iti.

Suddenly, they come across a roadblock among the trees. A group of masked men, some firing guns in the air, appears and orders them from the vehicle. Iti and the others lie on the ground and are frisked.

Afterwards they are allowed to get up and are taken to a makeshift camp where they meet other people. What follows is an apology for the ambush, the kickboxing demonstrations - and a heated discussion between a vegetarian and a meat-eater about their respective diets.

"It was just [the personal trainer] said in his talk that you need meat to build your body and that's where the lady, the vegetarian, said 'no, you can get it from seeds and stuff'," said one of the young men in court.

The incident was one of many dissected at the High Court trial of the "Urewera 4" - the last remaining defendants of 18 people originally charged after the so-called terror raids of October 2007. How it was interpreted exemplified two radically different world views pitted against each other in the courtroom.

See bottom of article for an interactive timeline of the Urerewa trial.

The prosecution claimed what happened on that summer's day was evidence the men with guns were practising an ambush for as-yet unformulated future plans to commit serious violence on society.

The defence said it was simply an exercise in training for employment in the security industry, in the hope of getting people off the dole.

So what was really going on in the bush? Was it the teaching of bushcraft and security training, or was a sinister Plan B, to cause mayhem if Tuhoe's treaty claims did not go well?

The jury could not decide. Though they were clear in their verdicts this week about illegal use of firearms, they were unable to reach a verdict on the more serious charge: that the Urewera 4 were an organised criminal group, preparing to carry out serious violent offences including murder, arson and sabotage.

The trial, which wound up last week after more than five weeks at Auckland's High Court, became part of an even bigger legal saga which has twisted and turned through the court system since the raids, raising questions about the law itself.

Two areas came under the spotlight: the anti-terror law passed in the fearful days following Osama Bin Laden's 9/11 strike on America, and police powers of search and surveillance - the extent to which the authorities are allowed to snoop on citizens in this new age of terror.

Pre-dawn raids

The raids of October 15, 2007 were the first time the public knew something was up. Before dawn, heavily armed police burst into homes of suspects around the country and descended in force on the little village of Ruatoki in the Bay of Plenty, an entranceway to the Urewera forest and home to Tuhoe.

The events became so notorious that two documentaries have screened on TV and in cinemas here and at film festivals in other countries.

On that morning in Ruatoki, children cried in fright and helicopters with snipers thumped overhead. Nationwide, doors were kicked in and seemingly unconnected people were ordered from their beds at gunpoint - a mix of Maori radicals, peace and environmental activists and other stirrers known to police.

The country awoke to the startling news we could have terrorists in our midst - and a network of them, not just one or two. As the day unfolded police told of clandestine guerilla-style training camps being run in the Urewera forest, of people running round with guns and explosives - there were even rumours of napalm bombs.

Police, it was revealed, had been covertly watching and listening not just in the Ureweras but in cafes in the towns. So alarmed were they about public safety they had carefully planned this series of raids, getting sign-off at the highest level before storming dozens of houses.

At the heart of the network of people allegedly preparing to unleash mayhem on society was Tame Iti. According to police Iti, who has bared his bottom at politicians and been the author of many episodes of memorable protest, was now heading a group with death and destruction in mind.

From day one the case was greeted with levels of disbelief - and it soon began to falter. Within the month police were told they could not lay their charges under the new Terrorism Suppression Act, not so much because of the evidence they had gathered but because of the "incoherent" and complex way in which the act had been written. This decision by Solicitor General David Collins would prevent the Crown using bugged conversations as evidence.

The trial

Late last year the police suffered a further blow. After years of legal wrangling a Supreme Court finding that evidence obtained by video surveillance was illegally gathered led to charges being dropped against 13 defendants who faced only firearms charges. Only four remained: Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey. They faced firearms charges and a joint charge of being part of an organised criminal group with objectives including murder, arson and using guns against the police. A fifth accused, Tuhoe Lambert, was also to face the organised criminal group charge but died last July, aged 63.

In court, a jury finally got to see footage from police cameras hidden in the bush. There was a group taking part in military-style manoeuvres; a patrol in which some were armed and others carried sticks; an exercise to throw "Molotov cocktails" (Steinlager bottles filled with a petrol/diesel mix and wicks); an alleged practice ambush to kidnap someone from a vehicle. There were audio recordings of gunfire, including volleys from semi-automatics.

Various documents were admitted as evidence, including Tuhoe Lambert's diary, with training notes such as "take high ground then swoop down", "ambush", "speed and surprise", "deliver decisive blows first 24 hours" and "hit, rest, hit again".

The Crown produced a "scenarios" document written by Signer outlining four possible exercises: blowing up a cow shed; blowing up a bridge; setting fire to cars with Molotov cocktails and stopping a car to grab a backseat passenger. In one, a guard would have to be "eliminated".

The Crown also had transcripts of cellphone and computer chatroom conversations. In one, a person the Crown said was Iti talked of a Plan A and a Plan B if negotiations for Tuhoe self-determination hit the wall. Iti allegedly said: "We are planning for war if we have to ..."

In another, Iti allegedly said: We are a revolutionary military wing of Aotearoa."

In the raids, a pamphlet by Bailey was found which talked of "revolution" and, at the home of her brother Ira, was a chemical recipe which an expert witness said was capable of making a "thermite bomb".

And there were guns - a cache of rifles and shotguns some of which, the Crown alleged, were "military-style" semi-automatics.

But, the defence would argue, words can have more than one meaning and culture and events can't be understood by peering through a keyhole. And the weapons may not have been as sinister as the police believed.

Outside Courtroom 15 during a break one day late in the case sat a big Maori man dressed in black and with full facial moko, an alcohol and drug counsellor for Tuhoe Hauora which is Tuhoe's health service.

He was once Mongrel Mob, he revealed, and he still had shotgun pellets floating in his arm from the bad old days when he lived in the ganglands of Wairoa.

That was before he moved back to his Ruatoki homeland where he says his cousin Tame Iti, who is also a Tuhoe health worker, "pulled me from the hole". He was on the very first course Iti ran on living without violence, the man said.

On a day when Pakeha fearfulness - of Iti's moko among other things - was talked about in court, the big man pointed to a spiralling circle of black ink on his cheek.

"See how it goes around, always going round and round? That represents the planets. And these are connections," he said, pointing to the lines on his forehead.

"It's just continual. Atua, which is our gods, tangata which is us, and the connection from human to, I suppose, spiritual."

Nikapuru Takuta, 52, then nodded at the courtroom door and said "that's what that's about in there. Tame's been accused of something but all it is is connections."

Themes of connections and opposing world views threaded their way through the trial.

In court, where the lawyers outnumbered the defendants, Iti's defence counsel, former Labour MP Russell Fairbrother, stressed just how different Ruatoki was to the rest of New Zealand. There unlicensed guns, camouflage pants and balaclavas were the norm in a place where people hunted for food in the forest for reasons of both tikanga (culture) and poverty.

Crown prosecutor Ross Burns seemed to agree with the concept of two worlds. In his closing address he said it was usual in court hearings for the defence and prosecution to cover similar ground - that circles would intersect - but in this trial two very large circles barely touched.

Throughout, Burns tried to keep the focus on the evidence, stressing the unlawful use of firearms, the practising with Molotov cocktails, and quoting the intercepted cellphone and chatroom conversations.

The participants were planning acts of sabotage and armed combat - in other words "guerilla warfare".

This case was not about politics, he said, and the motivations of the accused were not relevant to the offending.

But the defence lawyers sought to broaden the case, placing the activities in the context of tikanga, political activism and Tuhoe's 160 years of grievance against the Crown.

Wherever they could, they exploited police ignorance about Tuhoe daily life and tikanga Maori, and portrayed Iti not as a villain, but a prophet ahead of his time.

His long history of protest to effect constitutional change had been flamboyant and theatrical but never violent, said Fairbrother.

In fact, Iti's activism had been the catalyst for an about-turn in the Crown's rigid stance on the past when, in 2005, it finally acknowledged the wrongs which had led to the confiscation of Tuhoe lands.

Why would Iti undo all this progress by "by some stupid act?", asked Fairbrother.

The defence raised other issues, suggesting that the Special Investigation Group formed after 9/11 had too little to do so turned its attention to protest groups. Christopher Stevenson, Signer's lawyer, noted "suspicion that's not reined in breeds more suspicion and applies its own proof".

The defence repeatedly pointed out that in the end, no terrorist attacks had actually happened. As Kemara's lawyer Jeremy Bioletti put it: "There's no thought crimes in New Zealand, not yet."

History

At times the courtroom became the setting for a history lesson. Tuhoe's grievances with the Crown were spelled out with the blessing of all, including the prosecution.

Such broad historical context was not usually relevant, Justice Rodney Hansen, said in his summing-up. But in this case a key question for the jury was whether the accused acted in a lawful purpose; and that could not be answered without an understanding of Tuhoe's historical aspirations and customs.

Defence witnesses spoke unchallenged on Tuhoe history and tikanga (culture and custom) and explained the language of indigenous activism. Waitangi Tribunal reports were admitted as evidence.

A defence expert witness, Dr Paul McHugh, said by video link from Cambridge University that Iti's activism was anchored in Tuhoe's history of fraught relations with the Crown.

"I think he's very media-savvy but I think that he is also deeply immersed in Maori custom and the importance of symbolism and of metaphor and those put together with media images can be very powerful. I think he also draws on another element, too, and the media magnify this and I think this is Pakeha fearfulness - and I think that his politics of protest ... use this and exploit this very carefully but also very adroitly."

Frequently, McHugh said, people regarded as rabble-rousers and tub-thumpers in their own time turned into tomorrow's heroes.

Another key witness for Iti was Tamati Kruger, Tuhoe's chief Treaty claims negotiator. Kruger gave much credit for recent remarkable progress in Tuhoe's relationship with the Crown to Iti and explained how the Crown had wrongly accused Tuhoe in 1865 of being complicit in the murder of two people. This led the Crown in 1866 to draw a line on a map and take all the fertile land on one side, which it gave to its soldiers, cutting Tuhoe off from the sea.

But, finally, in 2005 the Crown acknowledged the wrong and last year a historic "compact" (a formal agreement) was signed which recognised Mana Motuhake O Tuhoe - Tuhoe's right to determine its own future on issues including health, housing and education.

Kruger said Iti was the precursor to these advancements: "He has been instrumental in the expediency of these negotiations coming sooner rather than later."

In cross-examination, Burns asked Kruger whether training with Molotov cocktails at a camp would concern him. He replied it would and that it would be unacceptable to Tuhoe. Burns asked, too, if Kruger had seen the video footage and whether military patrols and violence were acceptable to Tuhoe. They were not, said Kruger.

The different worlds were also evident in police testimony about their investigation. Balaclavas and camouflage clothing were seen as suspicious. Participants had disguised themselves in the bush, the court was told.

But a defence witness said balaclavas were common in the area; that people wore them as beanies then rolled them down when the weather turned inclement.

Police who searched homes and offices on the day of the raids collected such items as an Oliver Stone documentary on Fidel Castro. They noted a political poster on an office wall and a T-shirt with a tino rangatiratanga emblem on it hanging on a washing line.

There was the police world and the real world, said Fairbrother.

The defence argued the "camps" were in fact wananga, a place to learn tikanga. One aim was to prepare Tuhoe youth for work in the security industry, including with a company logging on Tuhoe land. An intercepted communication on Iti's computer said there could be "mahe (work) in Africa for four of our guys".

Burns was having none of this. "To stop people nicking petrol in the bush, you don't provide balaclavered people with Molotov cocktails and semi-automatic rifles and pistols and so forth."

Words such as revolution and resistance used in documents and intercepted conversations spelled violence to police but the defence witness McHugh said these were words commonly used in independence struggles, even after the struggle was over. And Kruger said that for Tuhoe the word revolution meant "the battle for hearts and minds - the last battlefield".

Surveillance

How did the police know so much - or think they did - about the activities in the bush? The scope of the surveillance is an eye-opener for those who assume New Zealanders go about their daily activities free from the eyes of the state.

The police had been monitoring some of the accused for several years - in Iti's case, decades. Signer's activities - among them demonstrating against a weapons conference in Wellington and the American invasion of Iraq - had been noted since at least 2005. He was at the time a music student at Victoria University.

Police lead investigator Detective Sergeant Aaron Pascoe confirmed police shared information about protest groups relevant to the inquiry. Officers had attended demonstrations and Waitangi Day commemorations. "There was a lot of work done around the protest groups during the course of [the inquiry]. It was specifically for that reason." Pascoe denied, however, that the Special Investigation Group was specifically monitoring the four accused.

Undercover police not only hid in the bush during the "camps" but went far and wide tailing and photographing suspects. Kemara, described as the "armourer", was closely watched - there were visits to Parnell cafes, an army surplus store in Karangahape Rd, the Sportways gun shops in Mt Eden.

A camera installed opposite his Grey Lynn home snapped him loading his boot before the camps with what police took to be concealed rifles. Suspects in Hamilton, Palmerston North, Christchurch and Wellington were also watched.

The evidence

What did the cloak and dagger surveillance turn up? The footage from fixed cameras in the bush was given "never before seen" billing at the start of the prosecution case. The jury saw a group walking along a track, some carrying rifles, some sticks. Some wore balaclavas and camouflage clothing; others did not. The guy in front bent down - was he tying his shoelaces? Then he signalled to those behind to move ahead.

The Crown's military expert testified that some of the footage was consistent with military drills, while other footage wasn't.

Audio devices picked up the staccato rhythm of semi-automatic rifle fire but the video footage itself was silent. There were photographs of an upturned oven in a clearing, pock-marked with bullet holes. Strewn around the oven were toppled Steinlager bottles which the prosecution said had been filled with petrol and diesel, set alight and thrown at the oven. Burns also pointed out small scorch marks on the grass.

The final video showed an exercise around a Pathfinder 4WD, in which a man got out of the wagon and placed a semi-automatic rifle on the bonnet and took aim. Others, some armed, were then seen running from the vehicle. The Crown maintained this exercise was an ambush to kidnap a backseat passenger and take him hostage.

The defence argued this was in fact an exercise in escorting a VIP. Iti's lawyer said it was consistent with the aim of preparing young Tuhoe for work in the security industry.

Rau Hunt, the ex-Navy drill instructor who conducted the exercise, testified for the defence that he had never been shown how to "snatch" a person so couldn't train people to do an ambush. Hunt added that the participants' skills were "so abysmal" that the prospect of their working in security was "a dream rather than reality".

The defence showed further footage of the same exercise, including Hunt demonstrating how to look under the vehicle "for contraband or a bomb".

Security training was even offered in explanation for the "Molotov cocktail" throwing. Fairbrother said the exercise was consistent with military training in how to deal with them.

The prosecution had more than video footage to build its case. There was the "Scenarios" document written by Signer - the key evidence against the Swiss clarinettist which fingerprint and handwriting experts said Signer had penned, outlining four potential training exercises. But three witnesses, including his former music lecturer, spoke of a man passionate about issues of social justice and world affairs, a man who was both tolerant and non-violent - "a peacemaker".

Burns asked each witness how they could reconcile the footage of Signer participating in armed military patrols with the person they knew. They could not explain this, they said, but each said the footage did not change their opinion of him.

At the Wellington home of Emily Bailey's brother Ira, they found in a notebook a chemical recipe for making a thermite bomb which Burns said was capable of "melting through an engine block of a car". This had "no place in bushcraft or survival skills in the forest", he said.

Ira Bailey was one of those charged who had firearms charges withdrawn last year. The defence argued that the recipe could have been sitting on his shelf for years and the Crown's expert witness conceded that "nowhere on this piece of paper discusses how it would be ignited". The defence also drew an admission from Pascoe that police had returned the recipe to Ira Bailey.

As for Signer, lawyer Christopher Stevenson said he was glad the scenario document was found "because it indicates that none of this was real". This was not a plan for guerilla warfare, it was a game, he said.

In Kemara's car was a copy of an online "zine" (magazine) Today's Empire is Tomorrow's Dust, edited by Emily Bailey. A prosecution witness read excerpts from a Bailey article Strategising for a Revolution in which she wrote she probably had only a further 25 years to live and wanted to participate in "a revolution of everything", invading Parliament and blowing up communication towers in the dead of night.

But her lawyer, Val Nisbet, asked the witness to read the full quote: "I want a revolution of behaviour, revolution of power structures, revolution of the global capitalist economy. I want revolution of cities. I want revolution of everything. A world without oppression, a world of liberty for all, a world of communication and negotiation for resolutions that suit all and that work long term."

Other evidence against Bailey included a disassembled rifle found at the "bush hut" she was living in in Wellington. Her fingerprints were also on a gun cleaning kit at a Ruatoki house.

The raids turned up an array of guns and ammunition. Outside the house Iti was building at Ruatoki, wrapped in a sleeping bag under a tarpaulin, police found a Saiga .762 semi-automatic rifle, a 30-round magazine cartridge and two .22 rifles, a Ruger and a Magtech. Inside the house were more weaponry and ammunition, and face paint.

In the boot of Kemara's car were shotguns and ammunition. More rifles were in the caravan he was then staying in, at Tuhoe Lambert's Manurewa home.

Kemara's lawyers maintained the rifles were configured as sporting guns and he was entitled to them under his firearms licence.

For Iti, Fairbrother said tens of thousands of such rifles had been sold here. They were the most popular gun for "dispatching small animals" and for target practice.

The defence found backing in a prosecution witness, former gun dealer Wayne Dil, who said the Saiga was "more a fun gun - you go out with your friends, put some targets and have a bit of fun" but the prosecution argued that fitting a large capacity magazine to the rifles turned them into military-style weapons.

The weapons added to the material evidence, Burns explained in his closing, but there was also what the accused had to say - the intercepted chatroom and cellphone text conversations. Several suspects used the Aotearoa Cafe chatroom which computer-whiz Kemara had created.

One communication found on the work computer Iti used at the Ruatoki Mission House ticks off someone named "weka" for failing to turn up for a camp. "You need to be clear on these matters. We are a revolutionary military wing of Aotearoa."

The prosecution also placed much store on a conversation on the same computer with a Christchurch man which talked of an A Plan and a B Plan: "We are planning for war if we have to but training. ... We are not fighting for the return of the Ureweras but mana motuhake [self-determination]."

Fairbrother argued computers at the Mission House were shared and the message was not written by Iti. The conversation used Iti's name in the third person and the concluding words "my love" suggested the talk was between a man and a woman. "We don't know who it is."

On another seized hard drive was an exchange between Ira Bailey and Kemara discussing "fireworks", in which Bailey writes of his ears ringing after an explosion, even though he was 500m away. "I think it will easily kill someone if you chuck it in the window."

Kemara replies: "I will try to get more."

Prosecutor Burns often cited a text message exchange between Tuhoe Lambert and his nephew Kevin Lambert, in which the older man talks of Tuhoe freedom fighters needing "units in da cities".

Kevin Lambert: U mean like cells nd shit: nd then do da hit?

TL: Ae.

KL: Swt; i'm in.

TL: C if u got mates, got to love Tuhoe, give their lives.

KL: Got 2 mates; dum as fuk; do nethin 4 me; can drive truks; fly planes, got kidz 2.

TL: Cher cuz. Da dumber da better.

Another Tuhoe Lambert text mentioned needing "tough Tuhoe women to help kill the white eye".

The sources of some of these texts undermined their gravity, the defence suggested. Lambert was known as a big-noter and his grandiose statements were something of a joke to those who knew him, said Signer's lawyer Stevenson.

Burns said the intercepted communications helped put the guns and video footage and documents in context and gave insight into the motivations of the accused.

"One of the objectives, the Crown says, is murder. Intentional unlawful killing.

"The scenario document talks about sneaking down or around and then eliminating a guard. That can be killing or knocking unconscious. It suggests homicide or murder was one of the objectives."

He added in his closing: "You can't cross-examine a gun out of existence."

Reinforcing the notion of separate worlds were the gaps in both the prosecution and defence cases. The Crown failed to convince the jury that the accused were not only members of a group but an organised group that had an objective of carrying out murder or arson or other serious violent offences. But neither was the defence entirely convincing in explaining away some of the accused's behaviour, notably the training with Molotov cocktails.

It didn't need to, of course - the onus was on the Crown to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. In the end the outcome - guilty findings on some of the firearms charges but an inability to reach a verdict on the organised criminal group charge - was not surprising.

The two worlds spilled from the dock and the witness stand into the public gallery.

Some Tuhoe came to court from Ruatoki and Taneatua as part of a roster and others were there nearly every day.

One was a woman with a moko on her chin who was loath to give her name but said she lived in the forest and who made a point of greeting Pascoe, the SIG officer in charge.

"Morena (morning) Aaron," she would sing out sweetly.

On the first day of the trial it was: "Have you raided anyone today?"

Not today, he said, and he would usually smile when she announced loudly when she saw him: "there's my darling Aaron".

Bubbling underneath this seemingly good-natured jibing was anger and hurt. Pascoe is blamed by many for treating the entire community of Ruatoki as criminals that morning of the raids. People on their way to work were made to get out of their cars by armed men dressed in black "ninja" outfits and have their photos taken mugshot style.

Outside court the woman talked about human rights abuses by the police and how the men of Ruatoki had felt powerless to protect their wives and children.

"It was trespass, home invasion, assault with intent to injure..."

Nearing the end, Iti stood outside the Auckland High Court - described by a lawyer as "the ultimate theatre of protest"- signing autographs in the sun. For once, though, he hadn't choreographed the drama. The whole thing had been ridiculous, he said.

"Yeah, they really don't have any hardcore evidence ...

"I mean, the most scary part of it, I mean, they say it's a secret, this secret location but the only secret thing about all of this is them - cameras, secret operation."

They "bugged my bedroom, bugged my phone, bugged my kitchen, bugged my little red car". But Iti thinks he's been bugged for years.

The real target was Tuhoe, he said.

"Our culture and all of that is on trial."

The law

To a certain extent that scrutiny has rebounded on the police and the legal system which drew up the charges. In particular, the surveillance methods behind the raids have exposed some thorny legal issues.

While the police had obtained permission to intercept text messages and computer chatroom conversations, some of their surveillance on private property was illegal - and the police knew it. The Supreme Court judgment from late last year makes this clear. After the raids, the defendants challenged the use of the footage from hidden cameras placed in the bush on Tuhoe land and along the road leading into Ruatoki. Their challenge ended up before five judges in the highest court in the land.

Chief Justice Sian Elias was especially scathing of the police conduct. No law allowed the police to trespass on private land and undertake secret filming, she wrote, saying the police actions breached the Bill of Rights.

"The deliberate unlawfulness of the police conduct in the covert filming, maintained over many entries and over a period of some 10 months, is destructive of an effective and credible system of justice."

Though the charges against 13 defendants were dropped, the judges, by a 3-2 majority, allowed the covert footage to be used as evidence for the Urewera 4 on the basis of the seriousness of the allegations. A clause in the Evidence Act allowed this.

The decision, however, prompted the Government to controversially rush through an urgent "patch" to the law to allow the police to secretly film on private property, claiming the decision would jeopardise up to 40 pending trials and more than 50 active investigations.

Prime Minister John Key said without this change - which would not affect the Urewera trial - some very serious criminals would not be brought to justice. It was only a short-term measure, he said, until the Search and Surveillance Bill was passed because that bill had a provision dealing with the issue of secret filming on private properties.

Civil rights experts were enraged by the Government's move, as were many in the law fraternity. The Criminal Bar Association called the patch a quick-fix and Rodney Harrison, QC, who appeared in the Supreme Court as counsel for Iti and other Operation 8 accused, wrote in a Herald opinion piece: "A quick quiz: name one other so-called democracy that would respond to a botched police operation involving deliberate and prolonged police illegality by immediately passing validating legislation and retrospective effect? No? I thought not." The controversial Search and Surveillance Bill was passed by Parliament this week, expanding the range of visual surveillance powers.

The police might argue they were also hamstrung by Parliament - the investigation exposed serious failings in the hastily drafted Terrorism Suppression Act.

Three weeks after the raids, Solicitor General David Collins ruled out laying charges under the act saying though the investigation had uncovered some "very disturbing activities", the evidence fell short of meeting the very technical requirements of the act.

He said the difficulties in applying the act, rather than any lack of evidence, were a "very significant factor" in his decision. He was scathing of the law, which he described as "unnecessarily complex, incoherent and as a result almost impossible to apply to the domestic circumstances observed by the police in this case".

The decision meant the police could not bring evidence of the suspects talking, gathered using listening devices.

Professor Kevin Dawkins, an Otago University expert who specialises in criminal and international public law, told the Weekend Herald he agreed with the Solicitor-General's conclusions about the Terrorism Suppression Act. When the September 11 attacks occurred in the US, there was already a bill before Parliament which was intended to implement New Zealand's treaty obligations under international anti-terrorism conventions.

Once the UN Security Council adopted mandatory and binding resolutions in the wake of 9/11, New Zealand was legally obliged to enact legislation giving effect to those resolutions, Dawkins said, so it was decided to use and adapt the existing bill. "To that extent, the legislation was drafted hurriedly with a sense of urgency."

Changes to the flawed legislation were included in a 2007 amendment but the underlying problems were not addressed, he said.

In light of the Solicitor-General's heavy criticism of the act, the Government agreed to send it to the Law Commission to consider amending it, to cover the conduct of individuals who create risk to, or public concern about, the preservation of public safety and security. However, the commission, with the agreement of former Justice Minister Simon Power, later dropped the review of the act from its work programme.

Power, who has since left politics, said yesterday he could not recall why the decision was made to not re-examine legislation that had been found so wanting by the Solicitor General. His successor, Judith Collins said yesterday the Government had no plans to resume the work.

Additional reporting: Edward Gay, Jared Savage

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