Just 31 people connected to last year’s violent anti-mandate Parliament protests have been convicted in the courts, despite police charging hundreds of protesters in the aftermath of the three-week occupation.
Newly-released police figures show just a fraction of the 300 protesters to face criminal charges have had convictions entered against their names, with around 50 others still working their way through the judicial system.
More than 170 others walked free after their charges were withdrawn.
This comes as the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) is set to release its findings today into the fractious stand-off between police and protesters which culminated in a fiery riot on Parliament grounds on March 2 last year.
Former police officer Allister Rose was at the protest’s final day supporting frontline officers.
He says the crowd was “riddled with gang members” who were “itching for a fight” with police.
Rose founded the Blue Hope Foundation, a charity which aims to reduce rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide among police officers.
He said the violence that unfolded had a profound effect on many police, which he hopes will be taken into consideration by the IPCA.
One officer on “other duties” due to a PTSD diagnosis was sent to bolster resources during the riot, Rose said.
“He didn’t feel that he could decline a direct order from police hierarchy.”
Rose claimed some officers had inadequate protective equipment and many “felt like they’d been hung out to dry”.
“[Rioters] were lifting bricks up and biffing them at the cops. There were gas canisters and fire extinguishers being thrown at police.
“For our guy with PTSD, being made to go into that fray was absolutely terrifying for him because of the nature of his injury.”
Some officers suffered nasty physical injuries as they attempted to quell the riot, Rose said.
“There were broken bones, smashed faces from bricks, broken noses and lacerations. There were a couple of overnight stays in hospital.”
Police suffered 154 injuries over the course of the protest, 47 of which required medical attention - including four fractures, 12 open-wound injuries and seven concussions.
Many protesters also made claims of police brutality and by August last year the IPCA had received nearly 2000 complaints relating to policing at the protest and occupation.
Rose said the occupation and final hours of the riot represented a workplace for the frontline police involved, who Rose said were entitled to the same protections under health and safety laws as other workers.
About 300 people were arrested in connection with the demonstration-turned-riot, some of whom were hunted down in the weeks afterwards by police trawling through hours of CCTV footage.
However, more than a year on, 172 defendants have had their charges withdrawn.
They include a man who faced two counts of aggravated assault on a police officer. After the charges were dropped this week he took to Twitter to announce “justice prevailed”.
Police figures show 31 people received diversion and five people were found not guilty at judge alone trials.
Fifty-four individuals face ongoing court proceedings.
Asked why charges were dropped against more than half the protesters who were charged, police said the reasons for withdrawal were “many and varied”.
“To provide specific detail of the rationale behind withdrawing or not filing a charge in each individual case would require a manual review of each person’s prosecution file, which would take substantial research and collation. We can only reiterate that each prosecution case went through appropriate assessment.”
The final day of the clash
Within days of the protest beginning on February 6, it swelled in numbers, and hundreds set up tents, campervans and pop up shops on Parliament grounds and the surrounding streets.
Although initially a united front calling for the removal of vaccine and mask mandates, the goal of the thousands of attendees soon spliced into several mainstream concerns, and some alternative concerns.
Many held vehement views about 5G or the Three Waters reforms.
Others called for media, politicians and scientists to be held to account, with some making death threats and repeatedly referring to the Nuremberg Trials.
By March 2, nearly a month on from the occupation’s inception, protester numbers had thinned to the low hundreds, with many of the more moderate protesters vacating.
After weeks of criticism over policing decisions related to the protest, officers dressed in riot gear and armed with pepper spray cleared the hundreds of remaining participants from Parliament grounds.
During the operation, rioters hit back at police, lighting fires and throwing objects including bricks, wood and tent poles.
Rose said the final day of the protest was “riddled” with gang members.
“They wanted to take on the cops. They were itching for a fight and unfortunately the cops weren’t protected and some of them got hurt.”
The Herald revealed last year more than a third of the police staff involved in the riots were referred to support services to help deal with the emotional toll.
People arrested in relation to protest activity in and around Parliament Grounds between Feb 9 and March 4, 2022:
172 people have had charges withdrawn
31 people received diversion on one or more charges
24 pleaded guilty to one or more charges
2 youths received a warning
2 breach of bail arrests with the individual receiving a warning
5 people found not guilty in judge alone trials
4 people found guilty in judge alone trials
13 people still have active prosecutions for one or more charges
Prosecutions post March 4, 2022:
41 people with charges still before the courts
6 guilty pleas
18 at case review hearing status
4 elected trial by jury
2 heading for judge alone trials
11 seeking sentencing indications
3 convicted and sentenced
*Source: New Zealand Police