Bach fire payback whispers

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As of yesterday police had made no official connection between the arson of six baches at Whangape and recent arrests made within that area on serious drug charges, but at least some of the owners have no doubt that they are the victims if retribution for alleged 'narking.'

One owner told the Northland Age that "every fibre in my being" told her that there was a link between the arrests and the burning of the bach her family had been using for generations.

The six baches, all with long histories of family use, were destroyed on Sunday, December 16. Police and fire investigators returned to the area, which is so isolated it can be reached only on horseback or four-wheel-drive then quad bike, on Wednesday last week, fire risk management officer Terry Baylis saying all six had been burnt to the ground. Although they had been modest structures, built with timber framing, plywood, corrugated iron and makeshift awnings, he could not think of a more beautiful location, he added.

They had been spread along the coast, and Mr Baylis had no doubt that the fires were suspicious given that none of them had been connected to a power supply. Nor did they have running water, relying on streams flowing from the ranges behind them.

All six baches had been standing on Saturday December 15, although one had been vandalised. When police arrived 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 burnt to the ground before moving on to the next.

A police spokesman said last week that the inquiry was in its early stages and that no link could be made between the fires and recent arrests in the area on methamphetamine charges.

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 proceeds of crime legislation.

Police also found $300,000 worth of methamphetamine, a laboratory, protective clothing, breathing apparatus, and $154,000 in cash, $100,000 of which was in an ammunition case buried in a paddock.

Other arrests were made in Whangarei and Auckland, with an Orewa real estate agent accused of being the kingpin in a nationwide distribution network.

Two of the Whangape suspects were released on bail, while the third is in custody.

Few have been willing to speak publicly about what now appears to have become a bitter feud within local families and hapu, but several have told the Northland Age that the fires were misguided retribution against people who had played no role in the alleged drug offending or the arrests.

One who has spoken publicly is Hilda Halkyard-Harawira, wife of Te Tai Tokerau MP and Mana Party leader Hone Harawira, who wrote to the Northland Age last week urging that matters of justice and methamphetamine offending be left to the police.

She said it was police who had uncovered the 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 lest they be accused of being "narks," she wrote, adding that putting that kind of pressure on the elderly of Ngati Haua was despicable.

There was no mana in making, selling or using P, or hiding it on a sacred mountain, she said.

The investigation that led to the arrests was carried out by police and members of the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand.

It was not known yesterday whether charges had been laid over threats that were allegedly made against some members of the public outside the Kaitaia District Court last week, prior to an appearances by two of those arrested in November for the renewal of bail.

It is understood a complaint was made to police. .

- Northland Age

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