"Remember October 15th."

The words leapt from the black t-shirt Urs Peter Signer wore in the docks of the High Court in Auckland, alongside his partner, Emily Bailey, and the others of the Urewera 4.

The group appeared stoic and expressionless in news pictures of their five-week trial.

Signer's emblazoned message said all they wanted to.


A decade on, Signer and Bailey still remember October 15, 2007, the day that armed police flooded into the tiny Bay of Plenty town on Ruatoki, in the sleepy heart of Tuhoe country.

For the couple, that morning's culmination of the 18-month-long Operation Eight, which saw the arrest of 17 people, was officers surrounding the tent they'd set up in a quiet area of bush in inner-city Wellington.

More than four years later, they were found guilty of some firearm charges, the Crown's case under anti-terror legislation having controversially collapsed, and its charges against 13 others having also been dumped.

Today, Signer and Bailey remain unrepentant, and angry at the way the state handled the affair.

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"Families across Aotearoa are still dealing with the aftermath of the raids ten years ago: the trauma, the anger, the hurt and the financial pressures," they said in a statement this week.

"In particular, we want to draw attention to the traumatised children who received no counselling and are still suffering 10 years on."


The young activists from Wellington had stuck out among those police had charged in the aftermath of the raids.

Signer was a lanky, Swiss-born, sandy-haired music graduate from Victoria University and was known for his involvement in social causes.

Bailey, another university graduate, had been similarly been active in a long list of charitable projects, campaigns and voluntary environmental work.

Among them were community gardens and a non-profit service offering locals access to internet and film and audio equipment.

At sentencing in May 2012, Justice Rodney Hansen remarked at his "peace loving character" was "impossible to reconcile with a man engaged with others in learning how to use Molotov cocktails and who authored training scenarios which at least simulated violence to persons and property".

Urs Signer and Emily Bailey, pictured arriving at the High Court in Auckland in 2012. Photo / File
Urs Signer and Emily Bailey, pictured arriving at the High Court in Auckland in 2012. Photo / File

Ultimately, a jury failed to agree the four were part of an organised criminal group, but found them guilty of firearms charges.

Signer and Bailey had been found to be joint possession of a .22 calibre rifle, mainly used for hunting small animals.

Signer was found guilty of five firearms charges and not guilty of five; Bailey was found guilty of six firearms charges and not guilty of four.

The pair eventually served out a nine-month home detention sentence in their new home, Parihaka, another part of the country that carries immense social meaning to Maori.

The small settlement, lying between Mt Taranaki and the Tasman Sea, has been a symbol of non-violent resistance since Maori chiefs Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi peacefully protested land confiscations in the 1870s and 1880s.

"The oppression of Maori continues in this country - just look at the high rates of incarceration, poverty and homelessness for tangata whenua - but so does the quest for Mana Maori Motuhake," they said.

"We still support this struggle: the liberation of the poor and oppressed; taking care of the environment, the atmosphere, the rivers and the forest."

They say they moved there to Parihaka to support the tight-knit community, and to raise two children, who have grown up learning three languages.

They've popped up in the media, campaigning for other causes.

Their group Climate Justice Taranaki has protested oil and gas block offers around the region, and Signer launched another effort in 2015 urging Kiwis to take in refugees, mustering support from hundreds of people.

"We formed a charitable trust for environmental education and we continue to learn te reo maori and support Taranaki iwi on the ground," the couple said.

"We are busy, but we are happy."

But they hadn't moved on.

"What happened that day and in the weeks and years that followed will always be a part of us," they said.

"It changed our lives and we will never forget."