*Pic: Outside the Thames Courthouse on 20th February, friends and family are relieved that the charges have been dismissed against Graeme Sturgeon, third from right.
In the Thames District Court on 20th February, Judge Greg Hollister-Jones dismissed a charge of common assault brought by the New Zealand Police against Graeme Sturgeon of Coromandel.
The unprofessional and confrontational methods used by the DoC security guard Richard Lane, in opening Graeme Sturgeon’s car door forcibly, in a surprise move, without identifying himself, appeared to tip the balance in the judge’s mind to decide that Sturgeon’s actions from the moment the door was opened were made in self-defence.
At dusk on 17th October 2017, Sturgeon and two companions had been alerted to a clandestine Department of Conservation 1080 poison loading operation in the Whitianga CBD and went to observe and take photographs. The smell of the volatile gases had alerted local residents.
Driving into the unlit public carpark, Sturgeon stopped his car when coming across trucks loaded with bags of 1080 baits at the back of the Liquor King building in Joan Gaskell Drive, adjacent to residences and supermarkets.
No warning signs or barriers were put in place to deter the public from entering the public carpark while the ecotoxic baits were being loaded.
The Court established that Sturgeon was then dragged out of his car by a Department of Conservation guard and a scuffle ensued. Photos show Sturgeon with a bloody nose and ripped clothes.
The security guard did not have a current Certificate of Approval from the Security Licencing Authority and was untrained in ‘crowd control’. He works as a spray contractor for the Waikato Regional Council.
Due to the lack of lighting in the bait-loading area, there were difficulties knowing exactly what happened, as two witnesses did not have full and complete views. On 19th October Sturgeon had submitted a complaint of assault to NZ Police. A month later, 15th November, Sturgeon was summoned by the Thames District Court on charge of common assault.
At this time DoC had supplied to NZ Police only a short extract of the CCTV footage. A demand from Sturgeon’s lawyer, Barrister Greg Bradford, to view the full footage delayed the hearing.
Judge Hollister-Jones said that the CCTV footage made available to the court was very helpful.
It showed Sturgeon trying to close his car door to protect himself against his unknown attacker. The car door was wrenched open for a second time by Lane. Lane explained to the court that he was told “to expect trouble from protesters”. Lane appeared to believe that Sturgeon posed a threat and might have had a gun in his car. Under cross-examination a number of Lane’s statements were disproved.
The Department of Conservation had stored 23,700kgs of 1080 poison baits in the Liquor King building from June 2017 through to October 17th when the baits were loaded in preparation for the drop over the Kaimamara Valley, which is the source of Whitianga’s town water supply. Official Information requests showed that DoC did not inform local authorities about this bulk storage, including the local fire chief.
If there was a fire, toxic hydrogen fluoride gas would be released, with serious even lethal health effects, and the town would have to be evacuated. Tsunami evacuation rehearsals have shown that Whitianga has potentially bottlenecked escape routes.
*Stephanie McKee has been an environmental activist since teenage years around the issues of aerial spraying (Agent Orange, 245-T) and the campaign to prevent nuclear power in New Zealand. She was involved with The People’s Inquiry in West Auckland, 2002 – 2004, that held a public investigation into the impacts of the aerial spraying over a city. In her career she has been an English, Media, ICT and Music teacher and published poetry. She loves to research, and finds that with each issue, once you lift the lid and peer under the bonnet, it is always worse than you realise. She lives on the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand.