Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Worse and worse

How much evidence do the police actually have against the Urewera 17? Unfortunately, the media have generally been excluded from the bail hearings and the details supressed - but of what John Minto wrote in The Press yesterday about Rongomai Bailey's bail hearing is true, it seems the case is rather tenuous:

The police opposed bail and were required to indicate the strength of evidence against him. It was a somewhat bizarre legal discussion which followed. It transpired the police had no admissible evidence to justify laying the arms charges. In fact, they had no direct evidence whatever that he had ever even touched a firearm of any sort. What they did have was evidence gained under surveillance which cannot be used as evidence on the arms charges.

So here was a person arrested on gun charges but then detained on evidence inadmissible under our gun laws but admissible for denying bail for charges under the gun laws. Confused? I was.

So the police proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes or so reading what they regarded as the juiciest excerpts from the surveillance transcripts. These were obtained by bugging conversations in a car on a couple of road trips.

I'd like to record here the details of these transcripts but that evidence is suppressed. Suffice to say, these conversations were nothing one wouldn't hear on a Saturday afternoon at any gun club around New Zealand – even before the beer comes out.

It was all quite surreal. Those of us sitting in court were incredulous. The lack of substance to the evidence we heard was frankly embarrassing.

(Emphasis added)

Given this lack of admissible evidence, you have to wonder why the police were allowed to file arms charges and obtain arrest warrants for them in the first place.

The bigger question though is what happens if the Attorney-General (through the Solicitor-General) refuses leave to prosecute - or if leave is granted but the charges are subsequently withdrawn before being contested in open court. Will the police issue an apology, or any explanation at all for smearing these people's names - or will they leave the horrible taint of terrorism to smear them for the rest of their lives?