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Friday, 02 May 2008
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Protesters escape sabotage charges

Friday, 02 May 2008
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Charges of sabotage will not be laid against three protesters accused of damaging a protective dome over a satellite dish at the Waihopai spy base, police confirmed today.

Dominican friar Peter Murnane, 67, along with farmer Samuel Land, 24, and organic gardener Adrian Leason, 42, were arrested after allegedly breaking into the Marlborough base early on Wednesday morning.

The group, calling themselves the Anzac Ploughshares, said they had broken into the spy base to protest against the war on terror.

They were charged with intentional damage and entering a building with the intent to commit a crime.

However, police told Blenheim District Court they were considering charging the men with sabotage under the Crimes Act, an offence which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years' jail.

Today the officer in charge of the case, Detective Sergeant John Hamilton, of Blenheim CIB, said after considering the facts of the case, and taking legal advice, police had decided not to lay the extra charge.

However, he said the men would all face a second intentional damage charge, in relation to a vineyard fence they allegedly broke though on their way into the base.

Mr Hamilton said the intentional damage charges carried maximum sentences of seven years imprisonment, and being unlawfully on a building -- effectively a burglary charge -- carried a maximum of 10 years.

Two of the men, Land and Leason, were on a hunger strike, and were only accepting water. Murnane was only taking dry food.

Mr Hamilton said the three men said they had indicated they would continue with this until their next court appearances, on Monday.

Police were ensuring they received regular medical checks, and would continue to do so over the weekend, Mr Hamilton said.

Damage to the base was estimated at more than $1 million.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), which operates the base, confirmed it alerted the United States, Australia, Britain and Canada, fearing a coordinated assault on the so-called Ukusa intelligence alliance, after the attack, The Dominion Post reported.

GCSB director Air Marshal Bruce Ferguson said an assurance was given that no sensitive equipment had been compromised in the attack on the GCSB's listening station that feeds into a US-led global electronic eavesdropping network.

Mr Ferguson said his agency had scrambled to alert its intelligence "friends and partners".

The admission from the Government's serving spymaster came in response to questions about whether New Zealand's friends and allies were concerned over Wednesday's security breach by the Ploughshares protest group.

"No, we pre-empted that by letting our friends and partners know what had occurred and that the mission was not compromised," Air Marshal Ferguson said.

He said the message sent was "that we've had a security breach but no equipment has been compromised and they gained no access to any other equipment".


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