Editorial: Raids report offers lessons for the future

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The authority finds the police still have work to do to restore the Ruatoki community's trust and confidence. Photo / Wayne Drought
The authority finds the police still have work to do to restore the Ruatoki community's trust and confidence. Photo / Wayne Drought

Five and a half years after the Urewera raids, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has issued a report that is surely the last verdict on that strange operation. The authority has found "the police were entitled, on the information they had, to view the threat posed as real and potentially serious, necessitating investigation". Everything else the police did that day has to be judged in the light of that threat statement.

Judge Sir David Carruthers, chairman of the authority, has found some of their actions unlawful, unreasonable and unjustified, especially their house searches and roadblocks, but he finds no fault with the decision of the former Commissioner of Police, Howard Broad, to act on the evidence of the activity his officers had seen.

The deficiencies Sir David has identified may strike some people as minor.

The search warrant application should have contained clearer specific information about the individuals in it and the items sought.

Significant cultural and historical issues were not fully considered in planning the swoop on Ruatoki. Post-raid contacts with the community were primarily aimed at gathering evidence rather than repairing relationships.

These and other faults are easy to find five years on, when evidence of supposed terrorist training has failed even to make it to court and indictments were reduced to firearms charges against just four of the many individuals arrested in the raids. They have served prison terms and exhausted their appeals and the country is still not much wiser about what was going on in the Ureweras in 2007.

Many of the legal faults in the police investigation have been fixed, at least to the satisfaction of the authority, by new search and surveillance legislation passed by Parliament last year. It leaves just a few lessons to be drawn by the police. The authority finds they still have work to do to restore the Ruatoki community's trust and confidence in the police. Commissioner Peter Marshall's casual apology, qualified and defensive, does not sound sufficient.

Police invaded the homes of people who were not suspects and gave them reason to think they were being detained while their houses were searched. The authority finds those detentions unreasonable, unjustified and unlawful, as were personal searches of those people. Few citizens could tolerate such behaviour, in any circumstance.

The roadblocks at Ruatoki and Taneatua that morning have also been ruled unlawful and unreasonable. Police did not estimate the volume of traffic at Ruatoki and the impact of the roadblock on the community. They had no legal rights to stop and search vehicles, take people's personal details and photograph them. All these actions were "unjustified and unreasonable" in the authority's judgment. What occurred is a fundamental breach of civil liberties which should never be undertaken without prior legal clearance.

It is some consolation that the police did not stop and search a bus full of children from kohanga reo, as reported at the time. Drivers of the buses have told the authority they were waived through the roadblocks. That is an example of the deficiencies in the police's public communications arrangements that morning for an operation that was bound to attract immediate national attention.

The raids were not confined to the eastern Bay of Plenty; they were aimed at 53 people at 56 addresses, some in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Gisborne and Christchurch. With more than 300 police involved nationwide, it was one of the bigger operations mounted in this country and the IPCA has completed its largest and, it says, its most complex investigation.

May the lessons be learned if police ever have cause to suspect such a threat again.

- NZ Herald

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