One of the women at the centre of the bureaucratic blunder that sent Northland into an 11-day lockdown last year says the Government owes her and the country an apology and an explanation.
She is one of three women who had earlier been blamed by the Government for using "false information" to obtain permits to travel from Auckland to Northland in October 2021 in the midst of a Delta outbreak, sending Northland into an Alert Level 3 lockdown.
The Herald revealed this morning that the women had no links to gangs and weren't sex workers, as had also been suggested, and that their permit had been approved in error by a government worker.
Asked about the blunder, former Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins claimed there was nothing new in today's reporting as the error that led to the Northland lockdown in October last year was made public.
Asked whether he would apologise to the women who faced public backlash, Hipkins said he didn't want to get into "all the ins and outs" of the situation, saying decisions were made on the information available and acknowledged much of that information was not completely confirmed.
However, he said the decision to send Northland into lockdown was the right one.
One of the women, who the Herald has chosen not to name, said she "felt little relief" and is now considering speaking to a lawyer about the situation.
"Although I am glad the truth has come full circle... My main concern is the accountability and integrity of our Government and the lies in which the public clearly believed - if not direct lies, then the comments made to give the public the impression and idea of who we are," she said.
"I truly hope that the lesson learnt here is a lesson for the Government and that the people of New Zealand will not stand for misleading or false information and antics carried out by those of whom we choose to lead our country."
She said the claims "fabricated" about her and her friend were "absolutely appalling" and "disgusting".
She said "an exceptional apology" was needed from anyone in power who had commented, as well as their sources.
Regarding any potential legal action, she told the Herald it would not be for any personal gain but "mostly to hold those involved accountable".
The woman, however, was "grateful" today for the support and public feedback after the truth emerged.
"I absolutely feel the Government and whoever else was involved need to acknowledge all of the discrepancies in this case," she said.
"They owe the country an apology and an explanation as to why this whole ordeal was not transparent, and full of misinformation that not only affected us and our families - but the people of this country as well."
Among the documents released to the Herald was a summary of a police investigation into the women which found "no offence" and no "deception" in obtaining the travel documents.
Detective Inspector Aaron Proctor's summary of "Operation Hiking" quoted an email from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment which said the travel documents were "issued in error by the Ministry of Social Development, (the error not being the fault of the applicant)".
Another document showed it was known three days before the 11-day lockdown was announced on October 8 that human error was behind the travel documents being granted to the women.
Earlier the woman told the Herald exclusively that the "fabricated and defaming shenanigans" relating to her trip to Northland "led the public to believe, and in turn feel and speak hate towards us".
"Threats were made and our families' wellbeing were all compromised," she said.
"I am still in absolute shock that such untruths were told to New Zealand, I'm still in disbelief.
"This pandemic is absolutely no excuse to simply shun those who have been affected one way or another by [Government] errors.
"The Government were very quick to make me out to be a criminal at large, a risk to society, a public enemy, and the public followed.
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"We were guilty the minute the first announcement was made, and it's taken this long for the police and ministry to finally admit there is no evidence to support any of their claims against me."
She said her friend was threatened by many on Facebook, as well as intimidated by police.
She also said she and her family were harassed and persecuted by authorities and the public.
"We were really dragged through the mud - I felt disgustingly bullied and helpless.
"I have no faith in the Government and police at present, purely from my first-hand experience."
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Earlier today, Hipkins said he accepted allegations relating to the women were made at the time, but said he was "pushing back" on them, and noted the allegations - some made by former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters - were "not particularly helpful".
Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni, who was briefed on the error made by MSD staff, said it was a "human error".
She said "there was a lot going on in terms of the context of Covid" that led to the decision-making there.