Thursday, 01 Nov 2007

Tuhoe hires QC to look at lawsuit

By KERRY WILLIAMSON - The Dominion Post | Thursday, 1 November 2007
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Tuhoe have engaged high-profile Auckland lawyer Peter Williams, QC, to look into suing the Government over alleged police misconduct during so-called terror raids.

Mr Williams told The Dominion Post that he was now investigating the validity of a class action suit on behalf of people traumatised by the police action.

"I have been engaged by the people there and I'm going down there to interview quite a few people," Mr Williams said.

He was part of a group planning to visit Ruatoki in eastern Bay of Plenty.

"We'll consider our position. It may well be a class action will be commenced."

Mr Williams' investigation comes as anger continues to simmer over the raids, particularly in the small settlement of Ruatoki where residents say police action was heavy-handed.

Police have consistently defended the way the October 15 raids were carried out.

Mr Williams said his investigation would look at "abuse of rights, police abusing people's rights".

"I have found them to be very, very pleasant people to deal with," he said. "I'm quite privileged. They are very special people."

A Tuhoe spokeswoman declined to comment.

Ten discrimination complaints have already been laid with the Human Rights Commission over the Ruatoki raids.

Residents also planned to lay grievances with the Police Complaints Authority.

Ruatoki was at the centre of the police raids that saw several people arrested, including veteran Maori activist Tame Iti, who calls the village home.

Similar raids took place in nearby Whakatane, Palmerston North, Auckland and Wellington.

Ruatoki was sealed off by armed, balaclava-clad police for several hours along a historic "confiscation line" which marked the boundary of a Crown land grab in 1866.

Village residents said the early-morning raid left them traumatised. They also claimed masked and armed police boarded a kohanga reo bus, an accusation backed up by bus driver Isaac Nuku but dismissed by police.

Other residents said they were made to feel like terrorists.

The raid prompted Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples to suggest police actions had set race relations back 100 years.

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