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Series 3, Episode 24 And The First Degree 30 Jul 14 00:20:44

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Q+A: Transcript interview with Peter Marshall

Published: 1:41PM Sunday May 27, 2012 Source: Q+A

PAUL HOLMES 
Shane Taurima spoke to Peter Marshall on Friday and began by asking what plot was uncovered and who was at risk.

PETER MARSHALL - Police Commissioner
Well, I think it's fair to say that there was no particular target or set of targets identified, but it was against a backdrop of a firearm, for instance, being dismantled and being set down to Wellington; against a backdrop of discussions about a sniper rifle and a silencer; discussions about destroying property and explosives; and, of course, there were the threats in relation to people - to actually kill people. It was against that chemistry built up over a number of weeks that there was growing alarm, and in fact the High Court judge who was signing the renewal warrants was making it quite clear that the police should be actually taking action as a result of the submissions - May, June - that process-

SHANE 
So you were confident at the time that they did actually have a target?

PETER 
Well, we were certainly very alarmed at the increasing number of discussions, the nature of those discussions. As I said, they dismantled a firearm, took it through to Wellington- 

SHANE 
Did you know, though, at the time, Commissioner, what their target was?

PETER 
No, as I've said, we didn't know their particular target. It's a matter of balance. Do we actually wait until something happens, the unthinkable happens? And then, of course, you can imagine the commentary then. Or do we, at an appropriate time, take action because we need to take action-

SHANE 
So what did you expect them to do?

PETER 
Well, they were talking about causing damage, by way of explosives, to buildings. They were talking about killing people. They weren't specific in relation to it. They actually talked about creating a lot of mayhem around the country. They talked about a revolutionary arm, if you like. We don't know the specifics. But what we were convinced about, it wasn't just idle talk. There was a lot of commentary that gave us as investigators and indeed, as I mentioned, the High Court judge also expressed alarm. We were, in a very considered way, very worried about what they might as a group or individually- They were getting themselves all psyched up, and we decided to take the action that you are well aware of.

SHANE 
Commissioner, if it was that serious, why, then, did you allow the leader of the opposition at the time, our current Prime Minister John Key, to visit the area two months before the raids took place?

PETER 
There was no suggestion that he was in any shape or form a target. He wasn't the prime minister of the day. It was a very considered approach in terms of whether he should go there. He was invited there by senior iwi. We did a risk assessment in relation to that particular location. At that time there was no threat assessment against him-

SHANE 
But we understand that there were reports at the time of him being a target.

PETER 
Not that I'm specifically aware of. But be assured that we would not have let him as leader of the opposition go into that area if we, at that particular stage, thought he was at risk. So we covered that off.

SHANE 
But you didn't know the target, though, Commissioner.

PETER 
No, that's true, but we were very convinced that the security arrangements around him at that time were sufficient, and in relation to our threat assessment, there was no risk to him.

SHANE 
The other fact, too, that we're told is that Mr Key had no cops. He had no police escort in the area.

PETER 
Well, I'm not telling the audience what he did and didn't have, but suffice to say that there was appropriate security for him backed up by a threat assessment in relation to that one visit on that one day in that very specific area. We wouldn't have taken any risks in that regard.

SHANE 
We're also told that one of the targets was the president of the United States at the time, George W Bush, and that they were thinking of ways to assassinate him, if you like, was to catapult a bus on to him.

PETER
I'm not aware of that particular approach, but I'm certainly aware that President Bush's name was mentioned in conversations. I don't know what context. But that doesn't take away from the fact that there were a number of remarks made about the use of explosives, about attacking institutions, and indeed killing people.

SHANE 
Could you not have sent, for example, the local police down to knock on their doors and to see what they were actually doing, or, for example, used the local Maori liaison officers?

PETER 
Well, of course, that is one approach, but I would regard that as being a very naïve approach. I mean, I liken it to police looking at a group of teenagers in their late teens, for argument's sake, and they were going to commit burglaries or aggravated robberies. Do we go along and tap on their door, or do we go and see their parents and say, 'Listen, your charges are actually not behaving themselves'? There's no law for one group and law for another group. This was serious offending.

SHANE 
So would you, for example, take the same approach in other areas like Remuera or Parnell?

PETER 
Very much so. We would wait and see and determine what's happened. People are getting arrested in those suburbs up and down the country every day for serious offending. We didn't want to go to the Ureweras; we were brought to that area because of the antics and the criminal behaviour of that particular group.

SHANE 
Would you, for example, allow armed officers dressed like ninjas to board buses of school kids?

PETER 
Well, I've heard that comment made. I have asked many questions of many people, and there is absolutely no evidence on that particular point of armed offenders squad members going on to a bus with schoolchildren. From my point of view, it simply did not happen.

SHANE 
Is there still a threat? Is there still a risk in the area?

PETER 
Not that I'm aware of.

SHANE  
Are you still monitoring those involved in Operation Eight?

PETER 
Well, I'm not going to go into any operational matter involving that group or any other group. Suffice to say that we have no particular information about the Ureweras. We believe that group was disbanded. They've been exposed for what they are. I think the police actions are being very clearly vindicated by the High Court judge yesterday. There's been no more nonsense. But going back to your other point, a senior iwi representative from Tuhoe gave evidence in the High Court, and he said that the elders were afraid in the valley, and they made the point that the elders did not think that the police had overreacted.

SHANE 
Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples has denounced the police action. He says that it was over the top.

PETER 
Yes, well, as I said before, elders within the Ruatoki area, as given in evidence by a Mr Nakora in the High Court, said that the police actions were not over the top, and I can tell you that people in the area-

SHANE 
And, with respect, that's one elder versus a community, if you like, of elders that have said the complete opposite.

PETER 
Well, I mean, again, putting things in context, we received some complaints from the Ureweras about the activities of these people. We actually received a lot of information from people in the wider Urewera area, and a lot of people thanked us from that area as well. So there's a mixed reaction.

SHANE 
Do you think that Tame Iti is capable of killing a person?

PETER 
I have no idea. You'd have to ask Mr Tame Iti that. But certainly the collective group are very worrying in relation to their rhetoric, in relation to their actions, and not just discussions alone. Lots of very troubling events happened there.

SHANE 
We looked at Urs Signer as another example - a pacifist. Are these people capable of assassinating people, of killing people?

PETER 
Well, the question that people are asking is why hasn't there been some explanation from these individuals? We've told the public what they were doing in relation to all this, and all we have is some commentary about them being potentially aligned to the security industry in Iraq. Now, I know Mr Iti has wonderful attributes in some regards, but he's not exactly in the peak of physical condition, nor are his co-accused, and in terms of the security industry in that part of the world, I don't think they'd be an attractive proposition. So we don't know, and I'm sure the people around this country would like to know.

SHANE 
And if it was so serious, though, Commissioner, why did it take 18 months? Why didn't you move in earlier? Because it seems like it took an awfully long time to try and come up and find some answers, when actually you didn't have the answers because you didn't know what the target was.

PETER 
No, we were certainly gathering the evidence, and there was a lot of work being undertaken, and we wanted to make sure that we were dealing with a criminal enterprise, people who were in possession of firearms for the wrong reasons. We came to the conclusion, the courts vindicated the police actions, and the judge was particularly scathing about this militia, and he made a point that in his view there was a threat to the democratic processes, or words to that effect, in this country. A High Court judge doesn't make those comments lightly, and as I said, a frightening prospect for society, he said.

SHANE  
Annette King, who was police minister at the time, was briefed the night before the raids. She told us on Q&A that what happened the next day was out of proportion to what she was briefed about. Do you stand by the briefing that was given to the minister?

PETER 
Well, she would have seen footage of armed officers on the streets around that particular location, Ruatoki. She wasn't present at that situation. Operational deployments are the responsibility of the police to ensure that police officers and the people they're dealing with are kept safe. No one was injured. No one was shot. 17 firearms were found. I don't think for one moment it was over the top.

SHANE 
Was the minister given the wrong impression, or did she simply get the wrong end of the stick?

PETER 
I think she was viewing the coverage of the police officers armed in the location. I wasn't present at that briefing. Operational matters are a matter for the police. But I know in briefings of ministers we would give them the broad overview of what's happening. The operational deployments would never be briefed to the minister. That is an independence of the police and the separation of powers in that context.

SHANE 
In terms of the apology that you have given the Ruatoki community, the local MP Te Ururoa Flavell says it's come too late, it was a reluctant apology, and he's called it a slap in the face.

PETER 
Yes, well, I have not met that particular MP. I've had discussions with senior iwi representatives from Tuhoe and I've made it quite clear I'm happy to go back there, and I will do when invited back there. Of course, the court proceedings slowed processes down in that regard. I've made the apology in the context of innocent people who were caught up. Absolutely no apology for the investigation. Absolutely no apology for the arrests. Absolutely no apology for the prosecution. And I stand by the officers, and as I said before, I think New Zealand is well served by the New Zealand police-

SHANE 
So you're quite happy to go back to the Ruatoki community and give a face-to-face apology?

PETER 
To those people who were innocently affected, who were inconvenienced, distressed, or indeed fearful, but I'm certainly not in the business of making a wholesale apology, because we have nothing to apologise for in the context of that Operation Eight. The people who were responsible for Operation Eight should, in fact, be considering an apology for the shame that they brought on the Ureweras.

 

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