By ALISON HORWOOD
A website naming the constable who shot Steven Wallace has prompted Justice Minister Phil Goff to consider legislating to protect the identity of police officers.
Mr Goff told the Herald that publication of the Waitara officer's name and photograph was "utterly inappropriate," and the fact it could be done legally was something the Government had to examine urgently.
He planned to meet a Ministry of Justice team this week to discuss guidelines for legislative protection of officers involved in serious situations when acting in the line of duty.
An officer not acting within the law would obviously go through the usual criminal process.
Any new law could not be a knee-jerk reaction, Mr Goff said. It needed careful consideration and should be open to submissions from the Police Association and other interested parties.
To reveal the officer's identity was particularly inappropriate, he said, because a coroner's inquest into the death of Steven Wallace was due to open on May 21, and a finding by the Police Complaints Authority was still pending.
"If the police officer had been acting in a way found to be totally justifiable, he certainly does not warrant the harassment of his name being widely broadcast."
The website was launched by Auckland campaigner Dermot Nottingham without the knowledge or consent of the Wallace family or the lawyer acting on their behalf, John Rowan, QC.
"He does not have the authority to talk to the family or take steps on their behalf," said Mr Rowan.
"It is not helpful and I do not intend to give any credence or support to Mr Nottingham because of it."
Mr Nottingham could not be contacted.
His website reveals the name, nickname and photograph of the officer who shot Mr Wallace in Waitara on April 30 last year after he embarked on a rampage of window-smashing. It has a human model showing the entry and exit gunshot wounds apparently sustained by Mr Wallace.
It includes a report by Mr Nottingham and a May 2000 report by Peter Williams, QC, calling for an independent tribunal to decide whether a police officer should face charges.
It also includes a copy of last year's police report, which cleared the officer of any wrongdoing and said he acted in self-defence.
Police Association president Greg O'Connor supports the need for the legislative protection of officers in exceptional circumstances.
"Otherwise, we end up in a situation where anyone anti-police or anti-establishment can do something like this for their own cause."
The constable and his family were at the "mercy of publicity seekers with a snitch against the world."
Almost immediately after the shooting, the officer, his wife and two young sons were spirited out of Taranaki amid high tension. Their identity and new residence have remained a closely guarded secret.
Susan Hughes, lawyer for the police officer, said that from a legal point of view, there was little she could do about the website.
"It's too late. The High Court ruled a year ago there was no basis for name suppression."
Central District commander Superintendent Mark Lammas said his understanding was that there was no legal impediment stopping Mr Nottingham publishing the constable's picture. But Mr Lammas said police would monitor the site and mentioned possible use of the "legislation around criminal harassment."
In May last year, the Herald won a court battle to name the police officer after his application for permanent suppression was dismissed.
The Herald then decided against publishing the officer's name, having established in law that police did not have automatic right to name suppression in such circumstances.
By ALISON HORWOOD