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Iti wants all charges dropped against Urewera Four

Published: 9:42AM Wednesday May 09, 2012 Source: ONE News/Fairfax

The group known as the "Urewera Four" are claiming victory after a High Court judge this morning confirmed they will not face a retrial on charges of being part of an organised criminal gang.

Well-known activist Tame Iti is also demanding firearms convictions against the group are thrown out.

Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey were found guilty on a number of firearms charges, but had also been accused of being involved in military-style training camps following police raids in Ruatoki, Wellington and Auckland in 2007.

In a brief hearing at the High Court at Auckland this morning, prosecutor Ross Burns applied for a stay of proceedings on the charge of participation in an organised criminal group, which a jury had been unable to agree on during the trial.

Justice Brewer granted the stay, meaning the four will not be retried.

Iti was in Tuhoe country as the decision was made and told ONE News he was celebrating.

"We've still got a bit of a long journey, but at least that part is gone - the organised crime thing - it was crap anyway it wasn't real," he said.

"I was very clear that this case would be thrown out."

The group will be back in court in two weeks facing up to four years behind bars for firearms convictions but lawyers are looking to a Supreme Court ruling to also have these convictions thrown out.

Part of the evidence used against the group was covert police surveillance footage which the Supreme Court ruled was unlawful.

However, the footage was allowed to be used due to the serious nature of the charges against them.

"The evidence was ruled admissible because of the organised criminal group charge," Kemara's lawyer Jeremy Bioletti said.

"That charge is now dropped away so I need to revisit the firearms charges in light of that."

Iti told ONE News his lawyer will also be looking into the matter.

Restoring relations

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall met with Tuhoe spokesperson, Tamati Kruger, this afternoon to try and rebuild relations with the tribe.

In a joint statement, they said the meeting in Rotorua was a good initial step towards the future, but would not go into detail of what was said.

Marshall said he would look forward to talking again with Tuhoe, while Kruger said he was sure it would be the first of a number of meetings between them. 

Earlier, Prime Minister John Key said there is no need for an apology from police over the 2007 Urewera raids.

"In fairness to the police they genuinely believed that they were dealing with a situation where there was suspected serious terrorist activity, now the courts have failed to prove that or disprove that," Key said.

"Our police officers have to be cautious when they go into those situations - it's not different from the Dotcom situation," he said, referring to the police raid on Kim Dotcom's Coatesville mansion.

"It's easy for people in hindsight to say nothing occurs but we've also seen in our history police officers lose their lives when they've gone into potentially dangerous situations."

Key said police "appropriately discharged their duties" and that police safety is paramount.

He said the law has proved that this is a difficult area and that the Terrorism Suppression Act may need further work.

"Clearly one of the issues around the Terrorism Suppression Act was that it was based on the principle that a terrorist cell would be a foreign cell and in fact if the belief in this case if you are of the view that there was terrorism activity then it didn't fit that criteria," he said.

But Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said Tuhoe deserves an apology.

"When they went into Tuhoe looking for two people that there appeared to be a bit of an overkill," she said.

"We still have children who are traumatised by that particular event, I don't think it's hard to say sorry."

What happens now?

The four were found guilty of firearms charges in March after a lengthy trial, and will be sentenced in a few weeks.

In a memorandum to the court, Burns gave a number of reasons for not continuing with the prosecution including:

- the organised criminal group charge only had a maximum penalty one year more than the firearms charges so the end sentence would not have been altered much
- five years have elapsed since the charges were laid and a retrial would likely have had to be held in 2013
- the retrial would have added further expense to "what is already a high cost case"
- there had been an "unprecedented media coverage and commentary" about the case which may have jeopardised the fairness of any retrial

Burns declined to comment further saying it would be inappropriate with sentencing pending.

The Crown case against the four contended that they were the ringleaders of alleged training camps preparing the participants for armed combat in 2007.

The case included sensational claims that the defendants and others were planning to use guerrilla warfare to achieve self-determination in the Tuhoe region.

But defence lawyers said the camps were to teach bushcraft and firearms skills in the hope that the participants might gain jobs in the security industry in the Middle East or Africa.