Not guiltyby Karl du Fresne
The man repeatedly arrested and charged as he campaigns to protect Lake Horowhenua has had a pretty good day in court.
Phil Taueki, self-appointed custodian of Lake Horowhenua and tireless litigant, has won not-guilty verdicts on several criminal charges against him, continuing a string of legal victories that must surely cause the Levin police to think carefully before ever arresting him again.
Listener readers will be familiar with Taueki’s crusade to protect his ancestors’ lake against pollution caused by run-off from surrounding farmland and stormwater from nearby Levin. It’s a campaign that has brought him into conflict with some recreational lake users, notably members of the local rowing club that he accuses of illegally occupying Maori-owned lakeside land.
Frequently these confrontations have led to Taueki’s arrest, but the former accountant – who accuses the Levin police of taking sides – has established a formidable record for defending himself. He told Judge Gerald Lynch in the Levin District Court last year that 15 charges against him had been withdrawn or overturned on appeal.
Taueki can now add more notches to his belt. In two recent decisions, Judge Bill Hastings found him not guilty on charges arising from a fracas at Hokio Beach, near Levin, and from separate incidents at the Horowhenua Rowing Club building.
Three charges of assault and one of wilful damage were brought against Taueki following the Hokio Beach incident, in which tension between factions within his Muaupoko iwi flared into a scuffle over a vacant house.
Police alleged that Taueki assaulted Sandra Williams and her husband, Henry, whose son had previously occupied the rundown house but was in custody at the time. The Williamses wanted their son to reoccupy the house once he was released, but the trust that owned the property, which Taueki chaired, planned to convert it into an office.
Sandra Williams is the mother of Louana Williams, chairwoman of the Muaupoko Tribal Authority, whose legitimacy Taueki has challenged. She is also the mother-in-law of Matt Sword, chairman of the Lake Horowhenua Trust, which Taueki accuses of not doing enough to save the lake.
Taueki was also accused of damaging Sandra Williams’ car in the same confrontation, which erupted outside the disputed house. But the judge questioned the credibility of her evidence and accepted Taueki’s defence that he had acted in self-defence.
At an earlier court appearance, Taueki had accused the police of interviewing only Sandra Williams and ignoring other witnesses who went to the police station with a different version of events.
On a charge of defacing the rowing club building by painting over the club’s name, Taueki cheekily argued that he was removing graffiti. But his central defence, which Hastings accepted, was that as a beneficial part-owner, he believed he had legal authority over the property.
Hastings’ decision also hinged on the meaning of the word “defacing”. There were situations, the judge said, where it was arguable that painting over something could improve rather than spoil a building’s appearance.
Hastings, formerly the Chief Censor, also suggested that Taueki’s right to paint on the building might be protected by freedom of expression provisions in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
The judge also found Taueki not guilty of burglary, a charge brought against him after he entered the rowing club building. Hastings accepted Taueki’s argument that he didn’t intend to permanently deprive the club of property that he removed.
Hastings did, however, find Taueki guilty of escaping from police custody, rejecting his defence that when he bolted through a toilet window at his lakeside home he was not aware that he was under arrest.
As the Listener reported last year, Taueki fled from the police after being found on the rowing club premises and stayed on the run for three weeks. He awaits sentencing on that charge.
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