Franks Speech: Vigilantes for rural crime?

Published: Mon 9 May 2005 09:00 AM
Vigilantes for rural crime?
Stephen Franks Speech
Address to Otaki rural residents group; Te Hapua, Otaki; Saturday, 7 May 2005.
Vigilantes for rural crime? Now that’s a proposition to stress the justice establishment in their security-alarmed apartment buildings and manicured suburbs. But some farmers must be considering it, given the judge’s decision to acquit Northland farmer Paul McIntyre a couple of weeks ago. It seems to have legal endorsement.
A jury refused to convict on the Crimes Act charge though Mr McIntyre shot while the thieves were fleeing with his quad bike. Considering the law it is an odd decision. But if, like me, you had been worrying about the effect of that law on the safety and security of more than 100,000 New Zealand families living too far from their neighbours to shout for help, there is no mystery in the jury decision. They acquit in nearly nine out of 10 cases where the police prosecute defenders against intruders.
But I am not going to urge the formation of vigilante groups. In fact, I want to head that off, tempting though it may be. I am here to urge the opposite; a return to law that is consistent with the ordinary wisdom of these juries, practical people suffering under a government-inflicted rural crime wave.
On the way you will get some statistics, an update on what Parliament’s Constitutional Arrangements Committee is not doing, a diversion to look at police porn matters, some legal history, and then a request for you to do something to help before the end of this month.
Is the following scenario familiar?
You’re suddenly awake, straining to hear that noise again. The bedroom clock says 3:53AM. Was that someone walking up the drive? Should you get out of bed? What will you do if someone is there?
Sounds like your garage door catch – but your heart is thumping so hard you can't listen properly. What will you do if someone is there?
Two years ago a young woman up the next road was raped while her partner was. Someone cleaned out your workshop six months ago. The police had their suspicions, but said it was hopeless unless they caught them red-handed.
You're not supposed to grab your shotgun – even if you were allowed to keep it handy. You listen to your spouse breathing. You wish you still had the dogs.
Just as you decide to relax, you hear your truck starting.
What can you do?
What the law says you should do, and what any decent self-respecting competent adult would do are entirely different things.
Current police advice boils down to "do nothing". Take no risks. Try to get a look at the thieves - if you can without offending them. Call the police and, in the morning, your insurance company. Theoretically, you can defend your property with force, but you cannot strike or harm anyone.
What kind of force is that? A firm hug? The well-meaning fools responsible for this state of the law don’t know either. In Britain, where there's been a furore after it was revealed that British families now face greater risk of intruder violence in their homes than US families, the police have put out explicit guidelines.
So I asked our Police Minister nine questions to learn what guidance our police are given and can give about the law? Here is the only answer he gave to all of them
“Mr Hawkins 02/03/2005
Police are guided by sections 48 and 52 to 56 of the Crimes Act 1961. Because each situation is different, and because "reasonable force" and "necessary" have a legal meaning, police are in a position to dispense very general advice only. However, it is the role of the police to enforce the law, not to provide detailed legal advice.
This reply also answers questions for written answer nos. 1016, 1017, 1018,
1020, 1021,1022, 1027 and 1028 (2005).
Attorney-General Michael Cullen’s Crown Law Office officials don't know either – but if you risk taking a weapon to protect yourself, they'll tell the police to charge you, whatever your local cop thinks. They want to let the courts decide in cool hindsight what you should have done, to be fair to the criminals.
Odds are a jury will refuse to convict, but you could spend between $20,000-$300,000 to save yourself. You'll lose your firearms license, and the trash will target your family.
Fifty years ago, no one needed to lock anything in the country. You might have gone out to make sure there was enough fuel in the truck, assuming a neighbour needed it urgently.
Twenty-five years ago, a normal man would have yelled to his wife to call the cops, grabbed the shotgun and confronted the thieves in the drive. If they abandoned the truck to scarper on foot he might have used threats to hold at least one for the cops.
So what has changed – the law, or just those who make charging decisions? It is both.
The law would have supported you until 1980. That year, the right to make a credible threat of harm went with the removal of the defence of provocation. Then changes from 1982 to 1992 made it an offence to carry a weapon in these circumstances.
Last year I launched a campaign with a member's bill to restore commonsense to the Crimes Act. As it did 25 years ago, the criminal law must once again support law-abiding defenders instead of criminal invaders.
You can see the change in culture from Labour's hysterical response.
Justice Minister Phil Goff raised the spectre of “Americanisation”, and the shooting of door-to-door salesmen. The Agriculture Minister damned it as “a licence to shoot trespassers”.
They're wrong. I was sorely tempted to draft a “make my day law”. If Rotorua’s Peter Bentley had managed to rid this Earth of one of his attackers with the only shot he managed to get off, how many New Zealanders would be mourning - beside the offender's family and the Government? Every other New Zealander would have said “good job”.
But my bill does not legitimise vigilante punishment for trespassers. It goes nowhere near it. The bill could not be more respectful of New Zealand's deep tradition of the rule of law. Essentially, it reinstates self-defence rights lost in 1980.
I am proud of this bill, for a special reason. While everyone expresses outrage, I try to come up with practical solutions. This solution helped comfort someone who badly needed it. Among the hundreds of supporting messages I received after the launch, one said:
“I read your bill this morning - while Peter was having surgery. You are so right. Imagine if Peter's shot had actually hit that creep - Peter would now be facing charges, as well as suffering from extensive bruising, a damned sore nose after today's surgery and the ongoing mental stuff that we are both going through. Go for it”.
That was Maggie Bentley - Peter Bentley's wife.
This bill is a direct stand for freedom and personal responsibility, the reason I am in ACT. Until this generation, the state did not dream of claiming a monopoly on the right to enforce the law. The right of citizen's arrest is written into the Crimes Act, to the embarrassment of the police who keep urging people never to use it.
Enforcing the law is a right and was, only a short time ago, a responsibility of every able-bodied person. It is time we challenged the smugness of that common judicial pronouncement “I can't allow you to take the law into your own hands”.
It has always been in those hands. There has never been a time when there could be enough police to protect every New Zealander in this stretched-out land. The mutual trust and security that was part of our heritage did not come from having police to watch every scumbag. It came from decent and self-reliant families who knew they shared responsibility for upholding behaviour standards and the law in their communities.
Sir Robert Peel, who founded modern policing, was insistent that the police had no special privileges. They merely did full-time what all citizens could and should do when necessary. Over the past two decades citizens’ arrest has been strongly discouraged. Our police have become instead a class privileged with special rights. They are not better off for it. The police commissioner’s independence has been compromised by law changes.
This may be a profound shift, in terms of practical impact yet you'll not see anything on the Constitutional Arrangements select committee's website about it. You won't be invited to make submissions to that committee. It too was designed to sterilise concerns about under-the-radar changes to our constitution, until after the election, so the PM won't be embarrassed. But that's a diversion. We are talking about self-defence.
Our law assumed vigorous self-defence throughout the period when safety from crime was our expectation.
It was not until 1974, for example, that bank staff ceased their annual revolver practices. Every teller was expected to know how to stop robberies with the revolver under the counter. To listen to Mr Goff, you would think New Zealand must have been Dodge City in those days. Instead, bank robberies were almost unheard of.
Why are politicians who pretend to represent ordinary working people so hostile to self-defence? Why not trust the people with their ancient rights? Our crime figures were miles lower before they were removed?
I'll venture an explanation: We are heretics. We don't believe in Labour’s feminist gods. They know that ordinary people may be too cowed to say much publicly, but they scoff at them in private, and they hate that.
This project is a challenge to the Labour safety god.
`Spectator' magazine editor Boris Johnson put it in these terms:
“It is a sign of the decline of any great civilisation that its people begin to worship strange gods. Now we have a new divinity that commands the adoration of the governing classes, as nannying and multiple breasted as Diana of Ephesus. Her name is Phobia and sacrifices are being made at her altar”.
Those sacrifices are human sacrifices.
Mr Johnson was driven into print by recent fatal shootings near Henley, where police officers were not allowed to go to the scene for 64 minutes. Two women bled to death. No paramedics were allowed in until 87 minutes after the first call to the police. Meanwhile frightened members of the public went to the aid of the injured. On their mobiles they reported that the killer had decamped. Two brave neighbours cradled the dying women in their arms. Emergency services continually assured them over the telephone that help was on the way when it was not. The lie was to cover the shame of not admitting that help was frozen by police rules determined to stamp out risk by leaving no room for individual initiative or even for commonsense.
New Zealand has had two similar deaths during my time as an MP but, unlike Britain, there was no public outcry or inquiry. A woman died slowly of gunshot wounds in a Fielding house, begging for help on the phone, after the killer had left. Police refused to let anyone near the house. Not long after that, a constable died on the front lawn of another Manawatu house, while police stood clear in case the killer was still there waiting to shoot more officers.
I made myself unpopular by asking the Police Minister questions. The officer responsible treated them as insults to police courage. I received messages through friendly officers to back off, or ACT would suffer.
Police leadership has been humiliated. I am sure they feel that kowtowing to vindictive political masters is fending off worse interference. But they’re destroying police morale. Insiders have told me that Dr Cullen forced the commissioner into the premature announcement of mass porn watching by police.
Now, it appears, only eight images are considered gross enough to be illegal. It’s disgraceful if our top law officer thought it worth triggering the PR catastrophe to ensure the public furore was over before it could touch the Prime Minister on return from her Anzac travels.
Much more seriously, police are now also humiliated victims of the idea that nothing is worth risking life and limb for, and that every injury must be avoidable. Senior police have swallowed the view that any injury shows someone was at fault. They must find some superior to pillory to ensure that it never happens again. Valour, it appears, is for mugs.
What has gone wrong? Are our police less courageous? I don't believe that. But whenever some brave citizen stands up to a robbery any media praise is followed by a police warning that it was, nevertheless, foolish.
That is why people in rural areas are getting fatuous police advice: “don't aggravate them, don't try to defend yourself, just call us or try to get away, don't take the law into your own hands etc” - notwithstanding the practical impossibility of police help arriving in time to stop criminals bent on mayhem.
And now the police don't merely stand back themselves. They locked Maggie Bentley’s line so she could not call any one else for help. She hung up and tried again. Each time the 111 operator was waiting. Maggie tells me they soothed her by saying they would call the neighbours – without any intention to do so, and they told her police had arrived when they were nowhere near.
Where is the apology from the commissioner and the Minister? Instead, the Minister backs the commissioner’s claim that it was a textbook exercise. Whose textbook? The Prime Minister’s textbook that says making it up is okay if about the police at Waitara, or at a Wellington breath-testing block.
My project is part of a mission to reinstate in our law respect for the people.
That distinctive culture of confidence in ordinary people made us trusting and confident, irreverent toward authority, yet courteous and kind. It made our soldiers proud of their self-reliance and individual initiative, yet responsive to good leadership and stoic.
The principles are not mysterious. They require that we:
• Take responsibility for the consequences of our own actions.
• Don't try to shift blame for the maturing of risks we have clearly accepted.
• Honour those who put themselves at risk for the sake of others.
• Recognise that people will not volunteer to help themselves, or others, if courts and lawyers await anything less than hindsight's best practice.
These principles were deeply embedded in our Crimes Act as recently as 25 years ago. I'm on a mission to reinstate them.
Now there's an immediate opportunity to ensure Parliament has to confront the issue. Police Minister George Hawkins has a bill to amend the Arms Act. The amendments are designed to allow New Zealand to sign up to United Nation promises to stop arms trafficking from here.
I have prepared amendments. Copies are available. I would very much appreciate your help. If you agree with what we are trying to achieve, please write and tell the Law and Order select committee before the end of this month.

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