Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

Further fallout from police gang blunder

Police used a digger to smash into the Red Devils HQ in Nelson. Photo / Supplied
Police used a digger to smash into the Red Devils HQ in Nelson. Photo / Supplied

A decision by a High Court judge to throw out charges against 21 Nelson gang members because police tried to falsely prosecute an undercover officer has had effects on another case in Auckland.

Read the full judgement

The case against a former president of the Hells Angels gang is poised to collapse in the fallout of the police action.

Philip Ernest Schubert faced a charge of offering to supply methamphetamine to an undercover agent.

Schubert's lawyer Eb Leary told Radio New Zealand he was told by the Crown prosecutor today that the charge would be dropped because of Justice Simon France's decision to stay charges that members of the Red Devils Motorcycle gang faced.

The man involved in both cases was the undercover officer known as Michael Wiremu Wilson.

Mr Leary said at the time his client was arrested, he knew Wilson was working undercover, but he was also made aware of charges he had faced in Nelson.

That was when he realised the Nelson charges were concocted by police against Wilson.

"From there on in the Criminal Disclosure Act allows counsel to dig deeper and get the documents that formed the problem that police now face and after a long period of extraction, which was pretty slow on the police part, I got everything and passed it on to my colleagues in the South Island.''

He said the charges had to be dropped because of the "gross abuse of process'' by police.

Mr Leary said he was organising for a hearing next week to have charges against his client dropped.

The Auckland Crown prosecutor confirmed to RNZ this afternoon they would not oppose a stay against Schubert's charges.

Police review actions

Police said they would reassess aspects of their undercover operations following the judgement.

"At the time police arrested an undercover officer involved in the investigation into the Red Devils we understood we were acting on the authority and approval the Chief District Court judge,'' Assistant Commissioner Malcolm Burgess said.

"The High Court has since reviewed this aspect of the operation and found that the actions of police were a breach of the court process. We are reviewing our processes to ensure this does not happen again,'' he said.

The review would ensure police and the courts were never put in such a position again.

"Police are absolutely committed to ensuring the programme operates in a way which puts offenders before the courts while operating within the law,'' Mr Burgess said.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said a manual for undercover procedures was still being used by police, but that would probably be rewritten.

He hoped police would appeal Justice France's decision because throwing out charges against the gang members was out of proportion to the police's actions.

Canterbury University professor of sociology Greg Newbold also believed police procedure for undercover operations would be changed following Justice France's decision.

"This is a strong statement to police that they are not above the law.''

Police should have known better - Former undercover cop

Meanwhile, a former undercover cop says police bosses involved in faking the prosecution of an undercover officer were incompetent and should have realised the ramifications of their actions.

Andrew Harland worked as an undercover officer for three years between 1999 and 2001.

He said the officer would have been thrilled that police went to such lengths to boost his credibility with the gang but the officers in charge of the operation should have known better.

"The senior officers who were running that undercover operation, their perception of things should have been a lot different and they should have realised they were deceiving justice, because that's their job to sit there and look at the overall picture,'' he said.

Mr Harland said when he was working undercover, judges took very seriously any action that could be seen to "deceive justice''.

In 1999, he attempted to apply for a licence to run a South Auckland second-hand store as a way to be involved in the criminal underworld, while police were running an inquiry called Operation Chest.

He said the application was held up for quite some time by the judge who was very concerned that giving an undercover officer a licence was deceiving justice.

"You'd think that would be a minor thing. But the judge wouldn't just sign the (order), because he was looking into the implications of deceiving justice.''

Mr Harland was one of 14 officers to resign from a central North Island police station amid accusations of bullying about 10 years ago. The police settled out-of-court, made changes to staff management practices across the country and presented him a merit award.

- APNZ

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