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Steven Wallace: five years on


30 April 2005

It is now five years since the death of Steven Wallace, shot and killed by a police officer in Waitara on 30 April 2000; and the search for justice by his family and friends continues.

On 8 May 2000, in the first Peace Movement Aotearoa article on Steven's death, we asked a series of immediate questions: why did police officers decide to arm themselves with guns when Steven was obviously not carrying a firearm himself? Why didn't they choose another option to stop him? Why was he shot four times? Why were local people who tried to offer him comfort and assistance as he lay bleeding and dying in the street for 20 minutes prevented by the police from going near him? Why is this young man dead?

We also raised longer term issues which would need to be addressed to ensure this did not happen again, including: reviewing police officers access to, and use of, guns; making sure that existing police procedures about firearms are actually followed; establishing an independent Police Complaints Authority; and improving the way the criminal justice system relates to Maori.

Last year on the fourth anniversary of Steven's death, we published a chronology of what had happened up until then which indicated that most of the immediate questions remained unanswered and the longer term issues still had not been addressed. That chronology is available online at http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/waitara29.htm

Since then, there are two changes to report.

The first relates to the Independent Police Complaints Authority Amendment Bill, designed to give "enhanced independence" to the Police Complaints Authority, which was first tabled in parliament in December 2002. The Bill was put on hold last year pending the outcome of the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct which was set up following allegations of rape and cover-ups by police officers. That inquiry was itself stalled when criminal charges were laid against some of the officers. Earlier this month the government announced that the inquiry would restart, but that its scope would be limited so the Commission (now comprising only one Commissioner, Dame Margaret Bazley) could complete its work without prejudicing any criminal prosecutions. The inquiry will run in parallel with investigations by the Police Commissioner into police behaviour, and the Commissioner's report is to be given to the Governor General by 3 March 2006. Where this leaves the Independent Police Complaints Authority Amendment Bill is not clear at this point in time.

The second change is the ruling by Justice Anthony Randerson, Chief High Court Judge, on the 21st of this month upholding the decision of Coroner Gordon Matenga to restart the much delayed inquest into Steven's death. While this is a positive step in that the inquest will now proceed, Justice Randerson also upheld the Coroner's decision to limit the scope of the inquest's scope to two issues: "police policy and procedure as it applied to general staff in dealing with violent offenders, and first-aid care, including the actual care given in the Wallace case." (NZPA, 21 April 2004)

It is not readily apparent how an inquest with such a limited scope will fulfill the purpose of an Inquest which is defined in the Coroners Act (1988), Section 15 as: "1) - the coroner holds an Inquest for the purpose of - a) Establishing, as far as is possible - i) that a person has died; and ii) the person's identity; and iii) when and where the person died; and iv) the causes of the death; and v) the circumstances of the death; and b) making any recommendations or comments on the avoidance of circumstances similar to those in which the death occurred, or on the manner in which any persons should act in such circumstances, that, in the opinion of the coroner, may if drawn to public attention reduce the chances of the occurrence of other deaths in such circumstances."

No date has been set for the release of the Police Complaints Authority inquiry into Steven's death.

And so the search for justice goes on ...

  • Where you can get more information
  • Commentary and analysis published over the five years since Steven's death is available on-line at http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/steven.htm

  • What you can do
  • If you wish to support the Steven Wallace Trust Fund for Justice - established to help with legal costs and expenses incurred by Stevenís family, and to campaign for possible changes to the law and to police procedures - please refer to the updated details on this page.

    "This is not just a Waitara tragedy, it was a national tragedy and one we must never allow to occur again" (from the Wallace Whanau Committee statement, June 2000)


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