David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Gangs in peace talks for 'the next generations'

Police are willing to enter talks with the two biggest gangs in the country about turning their backs on crime as Black Power and Mongrel Mob leaders meet to broker a peace plan.

Other changes are also forecast in gangland with the Government preparing to unveil a new plan to deal with gangs, which Police Minister Anne Tolley hopes to present to the public before the election.

The shift in mood is revealed in an investigation by TV3's 3rd Degree, screening tonight, which captures peace talks between influential Black Power and Mongrel Mob presidents.

Their decision to take part and to speak of finding peace with historical rivals will be seen as a strong message to members across the country.

Mrs Tolley told the Herald yesterday senior officials from government departments were working on a plan to tackle gangs. She hoped to have plans before the Cabinet next month.

She said it required a radical new approach. There would be no "soft-on-gangs" approach but "we've learned arresting and imprisoning - you don't get rid of gangs".

While sceptical of talk of the motivations of gangs coming together, she said: "My message to them is 'great, if they've seen the error of their ways, we'll work with them'. There's a lot of talk and what we'd like to see is action."

Police Commissioner Mike Bush told 3rd Degree his officers would try to find a way to work with those who wanted change.

"If they can show their own genuineness through their own actions and influencing their own whanau and family for a different way of life then that will go a long way - but we're prepared to do what we need to do in that area as well."

Senior figures in other gangs told 3rd Degree they saw no future in continued opposition. Founding Black Power member and national president Reithu Harris said there was a growing understanding with the Mongrel Mob and a desire to get past crime, rivalry and violence.

"Things are getting more positive. We can see where they're coming from and [they] can see what we're about." He said 99 per cent of both groups were Maori and "we're all virtually interrelated".

"I think it's merging whanaus together - in a positive way - not to merge to do drugs, not to merge to do crime. I'm totally against that. But if we are merging for the positive things in life which is going to affect the next generations of our children then I'll support that."

The same message came from Mongrel Mob Hastings president Rex Timu, whose meeting at the gang headquarters with one of Black Power's presidents, Geordie McKinnon, will be screened during 3rd Degree.

Nerves soothed by tea and bikkies with Mob

3rd Degree journalist Samantha Hayes isn't too proud to admit she felt a little nervous walking into a Mongrel Mob gang pad.

"I went in there with a sense of trepidation. I was a bit anxious.

"I was well aware the types of people I was going to speak to for this story were convicted rapists, spent stints behind bars and one who had been convicted for torturing a police officer." Then they served her tea and biscuits. "If you can get past the facial tattoos, the Nazi insignia and the patches, they're actually fairly normal guys."

Hayes said she had to balance the message of peace the gangs were delivering with the possibility they were playing 3rd Degree in some sort of PR stunt.

"They were speaking from very senior positions in the gangs. We found they were incredibly sophisticated individuals. We had to be very wary of that."

That sophistication extended to knowing how the programme would be received, she believes. "They really do believe this is an important story for them to tell so their membership around the country can see what the leadership is doing."

- NZ Herald

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