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Hung jury a 'win' for Urewera four - lawyer

Published: 4:40PM Tuesday March 20, 2012 Source: ONE News

The hung jury in the trial of the Urewera four has been labelled a 'win' by the lawyer representing Tame Iti.

The jury were not able to reach a decision on the lead charge of participation in an organised criminal group after three days of deliberation.

Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey denied the charge and other charges of illegal possession of firearms.

The jury reached a unanimous decision on the firearms charges with Iti, Kemara, and Bailey found guilty on six counts and Signer on five.

The Crown case alleged the accused were participating in military-style training camps in the Ruatoki area throughout 2006 and 2007.

It said the group were aiming to use violence to win self-governance of the Tuhoe region.

Prosecutor Ross Burns said the Crown would consider a retrial on the organised crime charges.

All four have been granted bail ahead of a presentencing report for the firearms charges on May 24.

Russell Fairbrother, Iti's lawyer, said the hung jury was a victory for the accused and indicative of the lack of evidence supplied by the Crown. 

"This issue is very, very divisive, it's very visceral," he told TV ONE's Close Up.

"So I think people either like what Tame Iti stands for or they don't and I think that is what the jury decision reflects,"

Fairchild said the jury were looking for "hard facts" where as the Crown had only supplied "speculation".

He said it was now for the Crown to decide whether to bring the lead charge before the courts again but was not sure when or if that would happen.

'Victory for both sides'

Constitutional Law Professor Bill Hodge said both the accused and the Crown could claim today's result as a victory.

He said the Crown had successfully brought charges to four of the accused which carry jail time.

"There's something here for both sides. The Crown says 'we win, we proved it'," said Hodge.

"The other side can say 'hey the serious offences went down', so everybody wins in that respect".

The prosecution said its video evidence and sound recordings from the Ureweras, including the sound of gunshots, revealed clear-cut crimes that could not be wished away.

It said the accused were the ringleaders of the camps which were training and preparing people to go to war. The Crown said they were ready to kidnap, wound and injure, commit violent crimes and even kill.

Prosecutor Ross Burns said during the trial that it happened and the jury had the evidence in front of them.

The so-called "Revolutionary Military Wing of Aotearoa" was ready and willing to use violence to accomplish its ends if it had to, said Burns.

Iti was alleged to be the heart and soul of the so-called military training camps, but defence lawyers said the camps were a kind of wananga, teaching bushcraft and firearms skills.

The defence said the people taking part in the exercises were training to possibly gain employment in the security industry in the Middle East or Africa.

'Different world'

Fairbrother told the jury that his client lived in a different world to the one they may have grown up in. He described Iti as an activist but someone who would never compromise Crown negotiations with Tuhoe over contested land.

While many facts in the case were agreed on by both sides, the intent was not, Fairbrother said. And he urged the jury not to judge his client by the way he looked. Iti's full facial moko could be intimidating or frightening to some but is simply an expression of his culture, said Fairbrother.

Signer's lawyer Christopher Stevenson told the jury his client is a peace-loving Swiss national who has "admirably" moved to New Zealand and tried to immerse himself in indigenous culture.

Bailey and Kemara declined to call evidence.

In summing up in the High Court at Auckland on Thursday, Justice Rodney Hansen told the jury not to be concerned about the fact the case was of high public interest and focused on issues that are important to Maori.

He said while there may be two worlds, there is one law. Hansen said the jury must not worry about the historic nature of the case and should stick to finding the facts. He said the overarching question in the case was what the camps intended to achieve.

The trial started in early February and was expected to last three months. But with just two of the accused calling evidence in their defence, it finished earlier than expected.

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