Maori group to appeal against trespass ruling

Thursday September 06, 2007

A group of Maori found guilty of trespassing on land they believe is
their own will fight the decision in the High Court.

Phillip Habib, Brock Marumaru, Doreen Ngawhika, Laurayno Ngawhika, Te
Awhina Ngawhika, Patrina Ritete, Samara Ritete, Shane Wall, William
Wallace and Georgina Whitu appeared in the Taupo District Court.

After a two-day defended hearing, Judge Chris McGuire found the group
guilty of one charge of wilful trespass each. He discharged Doreen
Ngawhika without a conviction because of evidence that the weight on
her shoulders to protect the land was even stronger than the other
nine as she was entrusted with the guardianship of the land.

Judge McGuire convicted the nine others and ordered them to come up
for sentence if called upon within 12 months.

The group were charged after they failed to leave an Acacia Bay site
on June 27. The site is leased to Auckland-based developers Symphony
Group for a residential development by trustees of the Hiruharama
Ponui Inc Trust.

However, the trespassers do not believe the lease is valid. They say
it was leased to the developers by trustees who had no authority to
sign the lease. They say they went on to the land to monitor it after
koiwi, or remains, were found and say it is wahi tapu, or sacred land.

Judge McGuire said the group had raised a significant number of issues
he was ill equipped to deal with as a district court judge. He
accepted the group had genuine and heartfelt concerns after koiwi were
found on the site and had decided as a hapu to go on to the site to
take on a monitoring role. He also recognised transgressions in the
trust but said the Maori Land Court and Maori Appellant Court both
upheld the lease as being legal, so he too had to. He hoped the group
would keep talking with the trustees, and the trustees with the
developers, in a bid to find some way to move forward.

Outside the court, Georgina Whitu said the group would now go to the
High Court to appeal the decision.

She said they didn't want to be stuck with the conviction because they
believed that they owned the land.

Whitu said she was pleased in some ways that the decision now gave
them the opportunity to air their grievances, especially those
regarding the validity of the lease, in the High Court, which might
have the jurisdiction to review it.

Whitu said the wahi tapu was still over the land and stopped anyone,
including themselves, from going on the site and they would take
action if anyone did.


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