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Stephen Franks

Sensible sentencing of Urewera four

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It was a good day for New Zealand. Justice Hansen sentencing the Urewera four was having none of what he called their “utterly implausible” excuses. Well done, police and prosecutors.

But a wider dividend goes well past the four. So called “peace activists” will not rest easier. Their cover is permanently blown by the terrorism evidence even though it could not be used. They know the police know who they are and what they mean by “peace”.

A few will some day be grateful they were stopped before the ‘game’ metastasised into something dreadful and lives were ruined or lost, including their own.

Even if our “terrorists” were more “Dad’s Army” than Baader Meinhof or Red Brigades, some at least could have become more dangerous.  Training camps sift out a hard core from the wannabes. Standard terrorist modus operandi is to process lots of amiable recruits and naive fellow travellers, searching for that nugget – the person willing to kill and be killed for the cause. Being inept is not being innocuous.

Still, we’ll now be treated to‘useful idiot’ solidarity and more public money wasted on appeals.

The defendants have been treated with great fairness and generosity by the New Zealand legal system: the Crown unilaterally dropped charges (on a legal technicality), blanket court suppression withheld damning phone interceptions and recorded conversations in buildings and cars. They were able to avoid answering or accounting for themselves in any way, they could make excuses late and then only via unsworn propositions advanced by their lawyers. The jury whilst apparently not accepting those excuses (or it would have had to acquit on the Arms Act charges as well) nevertheless could not reach a verdict on the more serious charges; the Crown decision not to retry; and all this funded by $millions in public legal aid.

There is no moral victory for the offenders and their dupes. Refusing to account for yourself, whilst having your lawyers put forward hilarious explanations of innocence and fighting strenuously to suppress contrary evidence is not a heroic stance. That is just busy lawyers exploiting an accommodating legal system.

And the raids? Much is made of proportionality. Only judges from safeleafy suburbs could invent a doctrine of proportionality in dealing with violence. Standard learning in the field shows that violence is least likely in the face of the most disproportionality. It is when force is thought to be balanced, or possibly impotent, that violence becomes worthwhile.

And race had nothing to do with it. Dozens of armed police stormed Dotcom’s castle. Sobered by the Jan Molenaar police killing and siege, it is time to drop the nonsense about Tuhoe being singled out for overbearing treatment. Given the evidence they had, the police had no choice.

What evidence? Well, the suppressed evidence. Suppression does not mean it does not exist, or that it was unreliable.  Fairfax media bravely published some of it and was prosecuted for contempt for that. Whilst some video footage was eventually used, there was a raft of phone recordings, taped conversations in buildings and cars which was not. Once the terrorism charges were dropped,without other serious charges this interception evidence could not be used and was vigorously suppressed by the courts.

There have been claims that the suppressed evidence just shows silly people doing naïve things. Just Pub talk. Killing John Key with a cow.

The useful idiots seem to be banking on a vast collective amnesia. But too many people have seen the evidence, including retained copies of the excerpts published by the Post. Though expunged from the public record in New Zealand, it cannot be removed from the international internet.

In this case it will be just too laughable for theuseful onesto maintain a critical mass of mainstream media belief that the arrested people just spent months playing hide and seek and discussing Maori medicine.

The intercepted conversations are similar to those recorded by police in “Operation Pendennis” in Australia the year before, which resulted in the arrest and conviction of a group of Islamic terrorists and wannabe terrorists. They had been planning to cause considerable loss of life. Some confessed or entered guilty pleas. In both cases, much of the intercepted talk is silly, mundane, over excited or boastful. In Australia the judge described the antics as ‘keystone cops” and in one instance the trainees actually opened fire with their new rifles before getting out of their car. There was similar sinister material in both cases.

All of us, including the would-be terrorists, can sleep easier because some rough men were discourteous early one morning four years ago.