Families living in fear after drug arrests and 'insult' to sacred mountain

Six waterfront baches have been razed as a holiday hotspot is ripped apart by vengeance attacks and vigilante justice.

The rift stems from a major drug bust, in which police seized $2 million of assets and allege they found hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash and methamphetamine-baking apparatus and cash.

The idyllic community of Whangape is riven and said to be living in fear, with the local marae committee too scared to meet - and the family of MP Hone Harawira is at the heart of the dispute.

He and his wife Hilda Halkyard-Harawira have battled staunchly against the damage drugs have done to their Far North communities.


Halkyard-Harawira said the drug bust had started a family feud and struck fear in the community.

"Elderly are too scared to look out their window in fear of being cast as narks," Halkyard-Harawira wrote in a letter to the Northland Age. "This is a despicable pressure to put on our kaumatua and kuia.

"It is hurtful that nephews and nieces are 'at war' with each other over a matter that is not of their making."

The fury was sparked last month when police shut down a methamphetamine ring and arrested nine people, including three family members from Whangape.

Police say they found $300,000 worth of metham-phetamine apparatus and $154,000 in cash, including $100,000 buried in a rusty ammunition tin on the Ngati Haua iwi's sacred mountain, Whakakoro.

The perceived insult to the mountain has caused particular anger in the community: iwi leader Matua Glass Murray led his family in an occupation of Whakakoro in 1992, to protest against its sale to Lotto millionaire Robert Buchanan. It eventually ended up in the hands of Auckland's wealthy Van Den Brink family, the chicken farmers. They have it on sale for $4.6 million.

Now, the wider Murray family fear some of their own whanau have further trespassed on the mountain's sanctity.

Colin McKendrick Murray, 59, his wife Betty Anne Lloyd, 53, and brother Frank William Murray, 45, were among nine people charged in connection with an alleged drug lab.


Four weeks later, somebody torched the bach in which the clandestine lab was found - and five other baches were also burned down the same week.

Locals believe some of the arsons were meant as a warning to those thought to have tipped off police; others were believed to be vigilante justice against the alleged meth-makers.

Halkyard-Harawira publicly condemned the "war" within her family.

"Leave all matters regarding P lab operations to the police," she urged.

"The manufacture of methamphetamine is a clandestine act against all communities. It threatens the well-being of our most vulnerable children and families.

"There is no mana in manufacturing, selling or using P, or hiding it on our sacred maunga," she wrote.

Labour MP Shane Jones commended Halkyard-Harawira for her courage in speaking out.

"Hilda deserves admiration, not antagonism," Jones said.

"I agree with her encouraging people to let police deal with the issue."

- with the Northland Age