Cops stir 'warrior' in Duff

By Nicola Shepheard

A few hours before Alan Duff heard a Taupo judge throw out traffic charges against him, the author was talking books to a class of 10- and 11-year-olds in his hometown of Rotorua.

"I said anybody who can guess what my sister gave me for breakfast this morning will get some extra books. And one boy put up his hand and he said, 'a kiss on the cheek?'

"And I said, 'no', but you're going to get extra books because of the originality of your answer. He's only 10. That was terrific."

The Once Were Warriors author was promoting the Books in Homes programme he co-founded with Christine Fernyhough in 1995, which has delivered some five million books to children in low-decile schools around the country.

An official 2001 evaluation deemed it a powerful force for change.

It galls Duff that the five million milestone, reached this year, didn't make headlines.

"Yet my financial woes were newsworthy, my being banned from a golf club was newsworthy, and these traffic charges were newsworthy."

Last November Duff's property development firm Pan Austral Limited was put into liquidation, with reported debts of $2.6 million. At the time, Duff said the death of his Australian business partner was partly behind the company's downfall.

In December, he sold his Ian Athfield-designed Havelock North home, valued at $3 million, for an undisclosed sum.

Asked about his current financial and work situation, Duff is defensive.

"Don't ask me how many square metres my house is, don't ask me my net worth. It's dumb and it's boring and it's completely irrelevant. I thought it was nationally known I'd lost all my money on property development. I scrape by. And I mean it, scrape by."

You must understand, he says drawing breath, "I'm not a conventional person. I'm incapable of talking about the weather."

At court, at home, the gloves are always off for Duff. In the 90s, the message that thumped through his writing, that Maori are ultimately responsible for solving Maori problems, thrilled and enraged the nation.

He's clear about his contempt for anyone or anything that limits others or infringes on individual rights, whether that's driftnet style social legislation or bullying police.

Duff accuses the police of waging war on citizens through misusing their powers in targeting minor traffic offences rather than serious crime. "They're assaulting us."

And now it's personal. On Friday the judge found that a policewoman and her two colleagues who arrived as back-up overstepped the relevant law in their treatment of Duff.

Constable Patricia Foden pulled Duff over and told him he'd been going 112km/h.

Duff disputed the speed and during the heated exchange that followed he was threatened with pepper-spray, pursued for 3.5km and handcuffed twice before being taken to the police station and charged with failing to stop for police and failing to remain. More than three months later, police added two counts of resisting arrest, which were withdrawn during the case.

In his written decision, Judge McGuire expressed concern at the lag between the two sets of charges, and called the evidence for the resisting arrest charges "unpersuasive".

He said Duff became very fired up but there was nothing in the way [Foden] gave her evidence to suggest that she was then or at any time fazed by the defendant.

But shouldn't he have controlled his anger better?

He points to a quote cited in the judgement: "Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having."

Now he and his lawyer Antony Shaw are considering whether to sue the police. "My wife is very relieved. We've been through a lot over this."

- Herald on Sunday

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