Wrangle over firearm charges 'ridiculous' - Tame Iti

By Sophie Hazelhurst

It was "ridiculous" the ceremonial firing of a gun during a historic powhiri at Tauaarau marae had led to a two-year legal wrangle, Maori activist Tame Iti said today.

Iti had his two convictions for unlawful possession of a firearm in a public place in January 2005 quashed by the Court of Appeal today.

The Court found the prosecution had failed to prove Iti was in possession of the firearm without lawful purpose, saying there was insufficient evidence of harm, which was necessary to prove the charge.

The charges stem from January 16, 2005, when the Waitangi Tribunal was welcomed onto the marae to hear historical grievance claims.

During the welcome, a re-enactment of the 1860 land confiscations was played out, involving Tuhoe warriors on horseback, burning vehicles representing the scorched earth policy of the Crown at the time, and a "fearsome haka," Justice Grant Hammond said in the judgement today.

The event was historic, in the sense it was the first time Tuhoe people were able to air their grievances to the Waitangi Tribunal on their own land.

Iti discharged the gun twice, once into an empty paddock, and again into a New Zealand flag.

Despite a police presence at the ceremony, no complaint was raised at the time, but Iti was charged three weeks later, after the incident was raised in Parliament.

He was convicted by a District Court Judge in June 2005, but appealed on two grounds: that the area in front of Tauaarau marae was not a public place; and that the Crown had not proved he was acting without lawful purpose.

The defence failed on the first ground, but the three justices agreed with the second, and overturned the convictions.

Today, Iti said he was pleased with the judgement, but thought it was ridiculous it had gone so far.

The charges had stemmed from then Act MP Stephen Franks sitting at home in front of his television and watching the event on the news, and writing a letter of complaint to the police commissioner, he said.

He had no problem with the police, but was annoyed by the political intervention.

"It's a waste of your time, a waste of my time, a waste of the judicial system, waste of time of the police," he said.

"It would have cost the tax payer money.

"I'm not too sure what they're trying to prove."

Tuhoe would always be in conflict with the colonial justice system, as long as it undermined the indigenous people of this country, Iti said.

He was concerned the way the event had been portrayed, which made it look as if he was the only person there with a firearm, when in fact several Tuhoe members had firearms at the event.

The judgement had been good timing, as Iti would be able to celebrate with 20,000 Tuhoe members who were gathering over Easter weekend for the Tuhoe Festival.

"I was thinking of putting the hat out there if there was a conviction," he said.

"But I no longer need to do that."

Iti's lawyer, Annette Sykes, said the defence had argued "since day one" that the Crown had failed to establish he had behaved unlawfully.

"And now the Court of Appeal has squarely found that."

She said Iti was "totally vindicated".

"Tame should never have been charged."

- NZPA


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