Urewera verdict: Freedom, for now

By Geoff Cumming, Matthew Theunissen, Anna Leask, Yvonne Tahana, Catherine Masters, Edward Gay, Amelia Wade

Tame Iti outside the High Court. Photo / Greg Bowker
Tame Iti outside the High Court. Photo / Greg Bowker

An emotional "Urewera Four" last night hugged, sang and spoke in Maori of their jubilation after a jury failed to reach a decision on the most serious charge they were facing - belonging to an organised criminal group.

But they are not out of the woods yet - the Crown may seek a retrial in what is already believed to be the most expensive police case and trial in New Zealand history, up to as much as $2.5 million.

Despite being unable to decide on the main charge, the jury at the High Court in Auckland yesterday found Tame Iti, Emily Bailey and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara guilty on six firearms charges and not guilty on four, and Urs Signer guilty on five firearms charges and not guilty on five.

The verdict generated tears from supporters in the public gallery and relief from the accused who - some in tears - hugged and kissed relieved family and friends.

Outside court, Tame Iti spoke only in Maori. He acknowledged Tuhoe Lambert, who was charged but died before the trial started, then thanked his supporters from Waikato, Tuhoe, Taranaki and Ngati Maniapoto.

Ever the showman, he then gleefully launched into the nursery rhyme Hey Diddle Diddle: "Hei tira tira, te poti me te whira, ka peke te kau i te marama, ka kata te kuri, mo ona mahi pai, ka oma te rihi me te pune."

Asked if it was a victory for Tuhoe, Iti was emphatic saying: "It's been a waste of people's time effort and resource: that's the Crown all over. The accusations the Crown was pushing didn't stack up."

Kemara, who the Crown alleged was an arms supplier to the group, was silent as he made his way through reporters outside the High Court.

He was embraced by supporters, who bundled him into a car and drove him away.

Signer, wearing a Tuhoe T-shirt which he had worn for much of the trial, hugged and kissed supporters but had little to say to waiting reporters except "kapai".

A smiling Bailey was inundated by her whanau, friends and supporters who hugged her tightly.

She and Signer - her partner and the father of her 2-year-old child - embraced as they walked from the court.

The four, who will be sentenced on the firearms charges in May, were accused of being involved in military-style training camps after police raids in Ruatoki, Auckland and Wellington four years ago.

The firearms charges can carry prison terms and/or fines running into several thousands of dollars but Iti's lawyer, Russell Fairbrother, said he did not think his client should serve jail time.

Seventeen people were arrested on October 15, 2007, and 16 were charged with firearms offences. An 18th person was later charged but in the ensuing years of legal wrangling, charges against all but four were dropped.

On Thursday afternoon, after six weeks of evidence, jurors retired to decide the Urewera Four's fate.

They took 19 hours to reach their verdict but the forewoman said they could not reach a verdict on the charge of belonging to an organised criminal group - which the Crown had alleged had objectives including murder, arson and using guns against police.

Crown prosecutor Ross Burns said a retrial would be considered.

"Ordinarily the Crown would proceed to a retrial, but it will have to consider it carefully in this case."

Legal experts told the Herald factors the Crown would have to consider would include whether they believed their evidence would be enough for a second jury to convict the defendants, and the public interest in the case - whether it was worth the time and money.

Police last night acknowledged the outcome of the trial but would not comment on their next move.

"Our role is to put the best evidence available before the court. We believe we did that," said Commissioner Peter Marshall.

"We will be taking the advice of Crown counsel on any further representations to the court."

Mr Marshall said police needed to act on the information that was gathered before October 2007 and he would continue to support staff.

The officer in charge of the inquiry, Detective Inspector Bruce Good, said the investigation started after police received "alarming and concerning information".

"We investigated that and put the case together and put it to the court."

Mr Good was asked whether the police would do anything differently if they had the chance to turn back the clock.

"That's a decision we would have to thoroughly look at again. I accept that we went in there and we did it for a purpose ... to safeguard the community and our staff."

Police Minister Anne Tolley declined to comment on the verdict but the Green Party wants an independent inquiry once sentencing is over.

It says the Crown should seriously consider an apology.

Greens police spokesman David Clendon said millions of dollars had been wasted in the police effort and in the courts on the grounds that there was some terrorist plot, which had not been proven.

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell said the hung jury confirmed deep doubts in the Tuhoe community about the Crown's case.

"We believe that to treat this community as terrorists; instigating an unprecedented raid involving up to 300 police, and then have the issue of terrorism downgraded to gun games in the bush signifies a huge error of judgment for the Crown and the New Zealand police."

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 22 Aug 2014 11:53:11 Processing Time: 882ms