Media Release from David Small

 8 May 2000

Court declares: police searched academic's house because he is a social justice activist.

The Christchurch High Court has awarded University of Canterbury academic and spycatcher, David Small, $20,000 in compensation as a result of the unreasonable Police search of his Riccarton Road home in July 1996.

The search was carried out as part of an investigation into a hoax bomb that was placed outside the ChCh City Council offices just days after Dr Small caught two SIS agents in an illegal break-in to the home of Aziz Choudry.

In a strongly worded judgement, Justice Young has confirmed that "the search of the Riccarton Road house was a direct consequence of the 13 July 1996 incident" (the bungled SIS break-in).

Paragraph 62 of Justice Young's ruling is worth quoting at length:

"It is, I suppose, human nature for some police officers to view an activist such as Dr Small with suspicion - as someone who is on the other side.  Of course, some police officers are more prone to this mindset than others. Given police responsibilities for security, police officers are perfectly entitled to maintain intelligence files on those who are, or conceivably could be, security threats.  Such people may well include political activists. But there is a difference between the police maintaining an interest in political activists (which I accept is legitimate) and the police equating political activism with either the commission of criminal offences or with a sufficient propensity to commit criminal offences to justify the obtaining of search warrants when an offence has been committed.  In his closing submission Dr Small took the view that his freedoms of thought, expression and association and not merely his freedom from unreasonable search had been infringed. Although there was an element of hyperbole in all of this, there is also a sense in which his claims as to this are right.  To say that Dr Small's property was searched because he is an activist in what he regards as social justice causes involves some telescoping of the thought processes of the police.  But it is nonetheless true.  From the point of view of the police, I think that this is the worst aspect of this case."

Plaintiff Vindicated

Justice Young's judgement is a total vindication of what I have been saying about this series of events for the last four years.  I said two things: that the police had absolutely no grounds to suspect me of being involved in the hoax bomb; and that my responsible and public-spirited actions in apprehending the SIS agents led directly to my house being searched.

1. Police guilty of political harassment

The court hearing also revealed disturbing facts that had not previously come to light, notably the inability or refusal of the intelligence-gathering section of the police (the Criminal Intelligence Service or CIS) to distinguish between political dissent and criminal activity.

During the hearing, the CIS officer who specialised in political intelligence was frank and thoroughly unapologetic about his conflation of political and criminal matters in this case and as part of normal CIS practice.

This amounts to blatant police harassment of law-abiding citizens solely because they hold views contrary to the dominant political doctrines of the day.

2. Complaints procedures have zero credibility

The matter at issue in this case had previously been the subject of investigations by the Police Complaints Authority and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.  Both incorrectly found nothing improper in the Police search of my house.

Only one of the eight police officers who gave evidence in the hearing of this case confirmed that he had been interviewed during the PCA investigation. And this was the officer (Detective Boyd) whose evidence in the hearing led the judge to conclude, in effect, that the search was unjustifiable political harassment.

The PCA concluded that it was not unreasonable for the police to suspect me of involvement in the hoax bomb because in an interview with Inspector Rob Pope I "confirmed a loose association with (Gatt Watchdog), . empathised with its principles and engaged in some activities including speaking to meetings and taking part in a demonstration conducted on the week of the APEC summit".

In coming to the conclusion it did, the PCA itself seems to approve of the kind of political harassment that Justice Young considered the worst aspect of this case.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security was asked only about the actions of the SIS and not the Police, but he nevertheless volunteered the view that "it was not unreasonable for the Police to include Dr Small in the application for search warrant".

Both these "investigations" were based on questionable assumptions and flawed processes and, not surprisingly, therefore, reached wrong conclusions.

As a result of my experience, I have no confidence at all in either of these complaints procedures.

3. Four-year cover-up has wasted my time and taxpayers' money. I took legal action against the crown only as a last resort after exhausting every other channel available to me.  Until very recently, I would have been satisfied with an honest explanation and a simple apology.  The crown's persistently deceitful and stubborn refusal to concede any wrongdoing at all has ended up wasting an extraordinary amount of my time and energy and an irresponsibly large amount of public money.

Even when, at the last minute, the crown finally acknowledged legal liability, they still tried to claim that it was all just an honest mistake and would not properly engage in settlement negotiations.

Quite apart from the violation of my right to be free from unreasonable search, it is disgraceful that I should have had to endure the emotional anguish and financial risk of private litigation against the crown to obtain justice in this matter.

4. I demand government apology and assurances of reform

To date, the government has only apologised for what it has been claiming was an honest mistake.  However, as Justice Young's judgement makes clear, there was much worse than an honest mistake involved in the police decision to search my house.  Therefore, I do not accept the government's apology.

I call on the government to acknowledge the judge's ruling and apologise to me for the political harassment that resulted in the violation of my rights to freedom of thought, expression and association and to my right to be free from unreasonable search.

Further, I draw the government's attention to the brazenly unrepentant attitude exhibited by senior members of the Criminal Intelligence Service of the Police in relation to the surveillance of political dissidents and I call on the government to ensure that all Police officers are made aware of the difference between political and criminal activity.

I also call on the government to review and overhaul the terms of reference and procedural methods adopted by the PCA and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

For further comment, contact David Small on (025) 208-4160 or (03) 364-2268 or (03) 337-3353.