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Police Commissioner Peter Marshall says when information came to light about serious criminal activity in the Urewera forest, Police did their job by bringing it to a close.
"We were placed in an unenviable position by a group of individuals, including the four who were sentenced on firearms charges this morning, whose activities were causing grave concern. We had no option but to act in the interests of public safety.
"However I'm very sorry that innocent individuals, families and a community were frightened and inconvenienced when search warrants were executed in October 2007."
Mr Marshall says it’s distressing for bystanders when Police have to act to put an end to serious criminal activity.
"I have executed many search warrants in my career and I know people who are visiting or who are present, but not involved in the offending, do find it frightening and confronting.
"In that context, I very much regret the fear experienced by the innocent people in the Ruatoki Valley – especially the children – and I say sorry to them.”
Mr Marshall says it was most unfortunate for the community that the activities of individuals in the Urewera forest required Police to launch a criminal investigation.
People from around the country were found to be involved. Search warrants were executed simultaneously in Christchurch, Wellington, Palmerston North, Hamilton, Auckland and parts of the Bay of Plenty, including Ruatoki, resulting in the arrest of 18 people.
"I want to make the point very clearly that the focus of the investigation was a group of individuals from different backgrounds. It was not aimed at any Iwi. We did not choose the Urewera location - we were drawn to that area because of the group's activities.
"The four convicted have never explained what they were doing and the real reason for their camps. We had no option but to take decisive action to bring their activities to a close."
Mr Marshall says the Police approach and actions reflected the gravity of the situation.
"In 2006 Police received a number of complaints about an ever-increasing number of people who were collecting firearms, including a sawn-off shotgun, and discharging hundreds of rounds of ammunition. These people were in possession of Molotov cocktails, were engaged in military style tactics and were having discussions that were causing increasing alarm. Comments were also made about killing people.
"It was incumbent on Police to investigate. Our decision-making took into account intercepted conversations between those involved, which were not put to the jury as a result of the Solicitor General's decision. Even without that evidence, the material produced in court revealed an extremely serious situation that had the potential to escalate and endanger lives.”
When conducting one of the searches that morning, Police found disturbing literature relating to constructing an explosive device. Loaded and hidden firearms were found in the Ruatoki Valley.
"When you’re dealing with people who have military style weapons and are in possession of a sawn-off shotgun, you need to be extremely cautious when you execute search warrants. Police officers have been killed in the past when they've been under-prepared.
"Thanks to the precautions taken, no-one was injured and no-one was shot during the course of those simultaneous search warrants."
Mr Marshall says Police conducted the investigation by the book every step of the way - including getting judicial approval at every stage - and officers have acted in good faith throughout the entire investigation and court process.
"For these reasons, I make absolutely no apology for the investigation, the arrests and the prosecution of those involved although I do regret the impact executing the necessary warrants had on the residents of Ruatoki.
"I fully support staff who carried out the inquiry. I believe New Zealand owes them a debt of gratitude."
Commissioner Marshall is available for interview.
A video statement from the Commissioner is on the Police website www.police.govt.nz and is available for media to use.