The Catholic Church has asked the High Court to authorise police to use force to evict Māori protesters from the defunct Hato Petera College site in Northcote.

The protest group, which says it represents the two Ngāti Paoa families that occupied the land before it was acquired by the Crown in the 1840s, has been living at the college marae since mid-August, before the college closed officially on August 31.

However, the group has split, with two rival claimants appearing in the High Court today claiming to represent the occupying group.

Reti Hohaia Netana Boynton, who was served with a trespass order on behalf of the group in September, told Justice Pheroze Jagose that he was a spokesman for the Peters and Turoa families except for one person, Lawrence Peters, "who does not want me to be the Peters whānau spokesman".

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But Lawrence Peters said Boynton did not represent the two families.

"We are going to seek an adjournment, the reason being that Reti Boynton has left a meeting we had on the marae that is significant to tikanga. He has walked out of that building and left me in charge," he said.

Lawrence Peters Rahipere, pictured above at Hato Petera College on August 20, told the Court that Reti Boynton no longer represented the two families occupying the site. Photo / Brian Platt
Lawrence Peters Rahipere, pictured above at Hato Petera College on August 20, told the Court that Reti Boynton no longer represented the two families occupying the site. Photo / Brian Platt

The two families have said that they are "repossessing" the land because the church is no longer using it for the purposes for which Governor George Grey granted it in 1850.

"Back in 1850 this land was confiscated by Governor Grey and was gifted to the Catholic Church with an attachment for the education of Māori," Boynton told the Court.

"We believe the agreement is being breached because no education for Māori is taking place there."

The church closed the college after Education Minister Chris Hipkins cancelled its integration agreement with the Crown, which provided for state funding.

The agreement set a maximum roll of 250, but the roll plunged after the Ministry of Education closed the college's hostel for health and safety reasons in 2016 and by early this year there was only one student left, Stephanie Pomare.

Ben Upton, counsel for the church, told the court that the church "is currently considering options that will be consistent with the Crown grant".

"The grant suggested that the land should be used for the education of children from both races and children of other poor and destitute persons being the inhabitants of the Islands of the Pacific," he said.

"The purpose was to give effect to a broad community interest, which the church has honoured and which is something it intends to honour."

He said the church attempted to serve a trespass notice on the occupying group on August 22 but that attempt failed.

"There followed some discussions with the police. The police's assistance was sought in trying to resolve the matter and also assist in serving the trespass notice," he said.

"It was really only on August 30 that it became clear that the police would not assist in the service of the trespass notice, although they did arrange a meeting which Mr Boynton attended and a notice was eventually served on him on September 7."

Reti Boynton (right), pictured at Hato Petera College on August 20, claims to represent two families that owned the site before it was granted to the Catholic Church in 1850. Photo / Brian Platt
Reti Boynton (right), pictured at Hato Petera College on August 20, claims to represent two families that owned the site before it was granted to the Catholic Church in 1850. Photo / Brian Platt

The Bishop of Auckland then applied to the High Court for an interim injunction to be granted without notice "requiring delivery up of premises owned by the plaintiff which Mr Boynton [and possibly others] currently occupy".

Last month Justice Edwin Wylie declined to grant the injunction without notice and directed that notice be given to Boynton.

Upton told Justice Jagose today that a member of the public had complained about the behaviour of the occupying group, and that the church wanted the group to leave the site quickly because the college playing fields were due to be used for upcoming rugby and touch rugby events.

He said the church hoped the protesters would leave the site after being notified of the court action.

"They simply haven't, and the hassling behaviour is continuing," he said.

He asked the judge to consider the next steps in the event that he granted an interim injunction requiring the group to leave.

"In the event that Your Honour is going to grant some orders, they ought to be extended out to ensure that, in the event that the occupants do not leave the land and property, that the police be entitled to enter the property and use force if necessary to give effect to the order," Upton said.

Justice Jagose said he was only being asked to grant a civil order, "a breach of which would constitute contempt".

"It would be jumping the gun slightly to anticipate that there would be a contempt," he said.

Upton replied: "That is true, but this would only take effect in the event that after the two days period that they don't leave, otherwise the church is left with having to come back here and present further evidence around them not leaving."

He said the judge had authority under the Trespass Act and High Court rules to make an interlocutory order authorising the use of force.

However, when Justice Jagose asked for any case law on the issue, Upton was unable to provide any.

Justice Jagose declined to grant an adjournment but reserved his decision.