It has left a thick trail of slime through many of the presumed foundations of NZ's justice system.
It has resulted in yet more legislation intended to limit the rights of NZers to their freedoms of expression, freedoms of thought, and presumption of innocence.
The sorry saga of the Urewera 17 has come to an end, with only four of those originally arrested in Operation 8 appearing in Court, and with only half of the firearm charges against them being proven to the satisfaction of the jury.
The "belonging to an organised criminal group" charge could not be agreed by the jury on a majority (10:1) basis leading to -
Crown prosecutor Ross Burns said the Crown will consider a retrial on the lead charge of belonging to an organised criminal group, which the jurors could not reach a decision on.
"Ordinarily the Crown would proceed to a retrial but it will have to consider it carefully in this case."
Yes, I can well imagine very careful consideration. The aroma of political urging still hangs heavily in the air.
Granny Herald, in an editorial on March 24 opines that -
It is worth recalling the words of the Solicitor-General when he decided the evidence did not support a charge under the Terrorism Suppression Act. He was critical of the act ("unnecessarily complex, incoherent and almost impossible to apply") not the police. They had "a sufficient and proper basis" for concern about what these people were doing.
The video shown at the trial has confirmed that much. If people are going to play games with real guns and explosives anywhere in New Zealand, they had better ensure they are authorised in law. The police may have an apology to make for some of their actions at Ruatoki, but not for their concern about paramilitary activities. On the evidence the public has now seen, they had to act.
Now I will agree with the sentiment, the police may well have had to act. But as the editorial has suggested there are many questions to be answered.
First in my mind is "Why did NZ's Police decide to undertake the raid on Ruatoki in a manner that would have done proud the Para's in Northern Ireland, or the US's best in Iraq?" This is not a country so large that an individual, let alone a group, can be out of sight for too long. This is not (yet) a country at war with itself.
Second, there was very obviously a major police resource sunk into the "investigation" prior to the conclusion of Operation 8. So, the question must be asked, "Why is the same resource not concentrated on resolving other well-known criminal threats within our society?" There are several, self-confessed, organised criminal groups running illegal activites that range from car theft to manufacture and/or import of illegal drugs. Yet the numbers appearing on those kind of charges are very small.
Third, the Herald (along with a lot of other people, I suspect) bewails the cost of the trial - over $2.8 million in legal aid for a start - as "the most expensive in NZ history. Less than $1 million was spent on the prosecution. I for one certainly do not begrudge the legal aid. The outcome of the prosecution is sufficient explanation.
So, those in addition to the questions asked in Herald's editorial...
The public still awaits the Police Complaints Authority's report on that operation. Many wait for that side of the story as anxiously as they have awaited the trial of those arrested that day.
Initially, charges were laid under a new Terrorism Suppression Act until the Solicitor-General ruled that the evidence, while "very disturbing", was not sufficient to establish that any of the 18 people arrested had been planning a particular terrorist act.