Peace activists off hook for $1.2m

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The government has given up trying to sue a Hokianga farmer for the costs of repairing a spy base dome damaged in a protest six years ago.
The government has given up trying to sue a Hokianga farmer for the costs of repairing a spy base dome damaged in a protest six years ago.

The Government has abandoned its attempts to sue a penniless Northland farmer and two other peace activists for $1.2 million.

Sam Land, who lives in a self-sufficient community in Whirinaki, South Hokianga, was one of the ''Waihopai Ploughshares'' who in 2008 broke into a spy base and slashed one of its two inflatable domes. The trio then prayed and waited to be arrested.

The Waihopai spy base, near Blenheim, is operated by the Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB). It is believed to be part of the ''Five Eyes'' network used by Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and USA to eavesdrop on global communications.

The trio - Mr Land, teacher Adrian Leason and priest Peter Murnane - were charged with burglary and intentional damage, but acquitted after a jury trial in 2010. Their defence was based on 'claim of right', with the men saying they believed they were saving lives in the US-led war in Iraq by disrupting the spy base's satellite transmissions.

The Attorney-General subsequently had the law changed so the claim of right defence could not be used again, and later that year lodged a civil claim against the trio. The $1,229,289 the government wanted included the cost of pies and beer consumed by the repair crew.

A summary judgment from the High Court in 2011 ruled the men would have to pay. The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court decision so in November last year the trio appealed to the Supreme Court.

However, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has now decided to drop the damages claim.

A spokesman for Mr Finlayson said the case against the trio had not been dropped, but the Crown had abandoned its attempts to make them pay damages. It did not make commercial sense to continue the claim when the trio would not be able to pay the damages sought.

The Crown and the defendants reached an agreement earlier this month in which the men accepted they were liable but the Crown agreed not to pursue the damages claim. The trio also agreed to cease their appeals.

The spokesman said the High Court and Court of Appeal judgments had shown ''you can't go in and destroy Crown property and say you were justified because you thought you were doing the right thing''.

Mr Leason, spokesman for the Waihopai Ploughshares, is currently overseas and could not be contacted.

Peace Movement Aotearoa welcomed the Crown's decision to abandon the claim, speculating it could be because it was an election year or because the government wanted to avoid further damaging revelations about the GCSB.

The government changed the law retrospectively last year after it was revealed the GCSB may have been spying on New Zealanders illegally.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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