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22 May 2013 - An Independent Police Conduct Authority report has found that Police acted unlawfully in establishing road blocks and detaining and searching people during ‘Operation Eight’.
The Authority today released the results of its independent investigation into the Police operation which focused on the activities of a group of people who appeared to be involved in military-style training camps based in the remote Urewera forest in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
The Authority received multiple complaints about the Police operation which began in late 2005 and ended on 15 October 2007 with the coordinated execution of 41 search warrants throughout the country, along with the establishment of road blocks at Ruatoki and Taneatua.
The nature of complaints received by the Authority ranged from the impact on the community of armed AOS officers at a road block to feelings of ill-treatment by Police during the execution of search warrants at properties. The Authority has investigated Police actions at 11 properties.
Independent Police Conduct Authority Chair Judge Sir David Carruthers said today that the decision by the then Commissioner of Police to undertake the operation in Ruatoki Valley and elsewhere on 15 October 2007 was reasonable and justified.
“However, the road blocks established by Police at Ruatoki and Taneatua were unlawful, unjustified and unreasonable. While Police were warranted in taking steps to address possible risk to public safety there was no justification for believing there was a general threat to the people of Ruatoki.
“Police had no legal basis for stopping and searching vehicles or photographing drivers or passengers,” he said.
The report also found that Police planning and preparation for the establishment of the road blocks was deficient.
“The road block at Ruatoki and the presence of armed Police officers was intimidating and the report states that there was no assessment of the likely impact of this activity on the local community,” Sir David said.
The report also showed that the detention of the occupants at five properties examined by the Authority was unlawful and unreasonable.
“While Police have the power to restrict the movement of people to prevent a search being interfered with, they cannot lead people to reasonably believe they are being detained. In a number of cases here they did so.”
In addition, the Authority found that personal searches conducted by Police on a number of occupants were unlawful.
The planning and preparation for the execution of search warrants was largely in accordance with policy, although the Authority found that one person’s inclusion in the search warrant application was unjustified.
“There were huge logistical challenges given that search warrants had to be executed simultaneously across the country. Those individuals who were considered by Police to pose the greatest risk were quickly and safely apprehended.
“No shots were fired by Police or others, all arrests occurred without incident and no members of the public were put at risk,” Sir David said.
The Authority made a number of recommendations to Police following its investigation including changes to policy and practice relating to the use of road blocks, as well as the introduction of more general community impact assessments before searches in major operations and better planning for children and vulnerable people.
“The Authority recommends that Police re-engage with Tūhoe and take appropriate steps to build bridges with the Ruatoki community,” Sir David said.
It noted that the introduction of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012 has affected relevant law, and led to changes in practice since the operation.
In undertaking its investigation the Authority reviewed and analysed the entire Police file relating to Operation Eight in order to properly examine and determine the individual complaints. Interviews with complainants, witnesses and Police were also conducted.
The Authority is an independent oversight body concerned with receiving complaints against the Police. In this instance the Authority’s investigation considered Police policy, practice and procedure in relation to complaints received on the planning and preparation of Operation Eight, the road blocks established on 15 October 2007 and the execution of search warrants at various addresses.
The report released today sets out the general findings with the Authority reporting directly to each complainant regarding specific matters raised.
Up until now the Authority has been unable to report on the Operation Eight investigation because of ongoing court proceedings. The Supreme Court decision on April 23 2013 dismissed applications for leave to appeal by the four people who faced criminal charges following the Operation.