Baches razed in feud over drugs

By Peter de Graaf

Six baches on a remote stretch of Far North coast have been burned to the ground in an apparent feud relating to a massive drug bust.

The baches, all with long histories of family use, were destroyed on December 15, near Whangape, north of the Hokianga Harbour.

In mid-November police shut down what they said was a major methamphetamine manufacturing operation at Whangape.

Nine people were arrested, three of them from Whangape, and $2 million worth of assets was seized under a law allowing police to confiscate property bought using the proceeds of crime. Police also found $300,000 worth of methamphetamine or P, a lab, protective clothing, breathing apparatus, and $154,000 in cash - $100,000 of which was in an ammunition case buried in a paddock.

The arrests and property seizures are understood to have sparked a bitter feud within local families and hapu. A number of people contacted the Northern Advocate's sister paper the Northland Age to say the fires were misguided revenge attacks.

Among them is Hilda Halkyard-Harawira, wife of MP and Mana Party leader Hone Harawira, who urged whanau to leave matters of justice and P lab operations to the police. Mrs Halkyard-Harawira said it was police who had uncovered the P-manufacturing operation on the sacred maunga Whakakoro, but some whanau had been accused of being informants.

It had got to the stage where some kuia and kaumatua were afraid to look out of their windows in case they were accused of being "narcs", she said. Putting that kind of pressure on the elderly of Ngati Haua was despicable, she said. There was no mana in making, selling or using P, or hiding it on a sacred mountain, Mrs Halkyard-Harawira said.

Fire risk management officer Terry Baylis said all six baches had been burned to the ground. Although the baches were modest - they had been built with timber framing, plywood, corrugated iron and makeshift awnings - he could not think of a more beautiful location. They were spread along the coast, including Taite Bay, Okuai Bay and north of Stony Creek. The fires were clearly suspicious because none was connected to a power supply and did not have running water.

On the Saturday evening all six baches were standing but the occupants of one found it had been vandalised. When police arrived on Sunday to investigate all six had been destroyed.

Mr Baylis said it appeared the baches had been targeted one by one, with whoever lit the fires making sure each was burned to the ground before moving to the next one.

A spokesman for the Criminal Investigation Unit said the inquiry was in its early stages and no link could be made between the fires and recent arrests in the area on methamphetamine charges.

- Northern Advocate

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