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Flag burning trial under way

Published: 6:15PM Monday October 20, 2003

The first person ever to be prosecuted for burning the New Zealand flag has gone on trial in Wellington.

Teacher Paul Hopkinson is charged with burning the flag with intent to dishonour at an anti-war protest in March. Police say flames from the flag leapt several metres in the air.

Supporters of Hopkinson are adamant the landmark prosecution should not be happening . They say the flag is a piece of cloth and it is the rights of people that should be held sacred.

Two other protesters are charged along with Hopkinson - Mark Eden and Jared Philips who police say threw a bag of compost at Australian Prime Minister John Howard's car.

Hopkinson's lawyer says it was Philips who lit the flag.

Hopkinson is also charged with endangering the public, but under cross examination Sergeant James Lee admitted the incident had caused no injuries and there had been no complaints from members of the public attending the protest.

The complaint over dishonouring the flag came from radio talkback host Paul Henry.

Hopkinson faces a maximum fine of $5,000. The trial is expected to take five days.

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