Greenpeace boss Russel Norman is calling on the Government to "categorically deny" any involvement with a surveillance campaign targeting the environmental lobby group.

Greenpeace says it has caught spies in the act, tracking and photographing staff and volunteers and filed litigation against the private investigation company it claims is organising it.

"The information received suggests the New Zealand Government has also been involved," said Norman, a former Green MP.

Norman said Greenpeace did not know who the source was but said they had been able to verify other information the source provided.

Advertisement

"The New Zealand Government needs to categorically deny that any official has ever had a communication with the oil industry about [private investigation firm] Thompson & Clark and Greenpeace, because our information tells us that they have," Norman said.

But Prime Minister Bill English categorically dismissed any suggestion that the Government was in any way involved, or was complicit.

"Not at all I don't where they'd get that allegation from," English said.

He would be concerned if there was surveillance of a protest group, but stopped short of saying he was convinced of Greenpeace's claims that they had been spied on, noting that "Greenpeace like to make people think they're the centre of all things".

Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins said today that she had "no knowledge" of any alleged spying and referred inquiries to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

An MBIE spokesman said that one of its divisions, New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals, had received information from Thompson & Clark regarding alleged breaches of the Crown Minerals Act's non-interference provisions. "Thompson & Clark were the security company on board the Amazon Warrior seismic survey vessel and have provided evidence of the alleged offending at sea, as part of the prosecution."

Apart from photos and videos of the alleged incident at sea, any information Thompson & Clark provided MBIE is specific to risks identified in safety and security plans. "For example, these may include pictures or locations of boat/trailers on ramps, in relation to potential interference with an offshore activity. We are not informed about how information is gathered but we expect that anything provided has been gathered lawfully."

Greenpeace alleges Thompson & Clark have tracked and photographed Greenpeace staff and volunteers in their private activities including taking photographs of their vehicles and homes.

In April, Norman and two other Greenpeace activists were prosecuted after jumping into the sea in front of oil exploration ship Amazon Warrior 50 nautical miles off the Wairarapa Coast. The ship was conducting seismic sounding for Statoil and Chevron.

The group were charged under a 2013 amendment to the Crown Minerals Act put in place to stop protests at sea near oil exploration operations, and carries maximum penalties of 12 months' jail or a $50,000 fine.

The charges were laid by NZ Petroleum and Minerals.

It was reported last month that the trio would be offered diversion, an avenue that would require them to admit to breaking the law.

At the time Norman accused the Government of "prosecuting climate activists and pandering to oil companies".

Greenpeace claims to have caught two people spying in "a reverse sting" after it was tipped off that the group was under almost daily surveillance, Norman said.

The group had also been leaked documents. Together they had led Greenpeace to believe they have been the target of a sustained campaign for some years.

Norman said the group had evidence that dossiers - including photographs, vehicle registrations and home addresses - had been compiled on dozens of staff and supporters.

"The material we have seen shows that there is an extensive, indiscriminate operation on Greenpeace. We believe our people have been watched almost every day, for years.

"They've been followed to their homes, they've been tailed in their personal time, they've had their privacy breached in completely unacceptable ways."

"This operation is disgusting. The team here work tirelessly because they want to make our world better. What leaves me feeling really sick is the allegation that our own Government has a hand in these dirty dealings."

The environmental lobby group has filed a civil suit in the High Court against Thompson & Clark Investigations alleging breach of privacy and seeking an injunction to stop the surveillance.

Nick Thompson, a director of Thompson & Clark, last night said the firm was bemused by Greenpeace's claim and would respond appropriately in due course.

The statement of claim filed in court alleges that, "since at least 2014, Thompson & Clark has been engaged by Statoil ASA, a multinational oil and gas company with its headquarters in Norway, and Anadarko Petroleum, an American oil and gas company, to provide intelligence about Greenpeace and its operations".

Requests for comment were sent yesterday to Statoil and Anadarko.

Norman said: "We've already seen [the Government] protect the oil industry at the expense of our climate and environment, but it would be the ultimate betrayal if they were knowingly helping oil companies gain information about private citizens in order to threaten peaceful and democratic protest.

"We have an important history of protest in New Zealand, marked by events such as the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, which was carried out at the behest of the French Government after it infiltrated Greenpeace with spies. Back then, the Government went to every end to fight for justice for us. Now it appears that they are the ones helping the spies."