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New Zealand: Pepper sprayed activist to court over provocateur

Pepper sprayed protester says police provocateur responsible
Pepper sprayed activist to court over provocateur

Sunday, 21 December 2008, 3:21 pm
Press Release: Simon Oosterman

Pepper sprayed activist to take police to court over provocateur

Press release - Simon Oosterman and Graham Minchin

Sunday, December 21, 2008 at 1.50PM

Pepper sprayed protester says police provocateur responsible

A protester who took the police to court for unlawfully pepper spraying him, is now taking another case against them for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice for their use of informant Rob Gilchrest.

Activist and trade unionist Simon Oosterman and lawyer Graham Minchin are taking this action following revelations that Rob Gilchrest, a witness in their case, was a police informant at the time.

Oosterman, who has known Gilchrest for eight years, says he is devastated that someone he once considered a close friend might have deliberately incited the situation that led to the pepper spraying and may have even tried to sabotage the court case.

"Although I thought he was a friend, I had had suspicions that he might be an informant which I had raised with my previous girlfriend, an animal rights activist who was also very close friend with Rob," he says. "It led to serious problems in my friendship with Suzy that I can't repair now that my fears had been proved correct because she died earlier this year."

Oosterman was awarded $5,000 in damages and $25,000 in court costs earlier this year for being unlawfully pepper-sprayed at the demonstration against genetically engineered pine trees in Rotorua in 2005.

The activist was seeking $50,000 in damages and did not win on all accounts.

Gilchrest, who was the police liaison at the protest, was uncovered last week by his ex-girlfriend animal rights and Labour party activist Rochelle Rees as a police informant for the past 10 years.

The informants evidence for Oosterman's court case seeking damages was found amongst emails sent to and from the Special Investigation Unit, a police unit set up in 2004 to deal with terrorism and threats to national security.

During the court case Minchin had concerns about Gilchrest as a witness, but had found it difficult to get other witnesses as the court case had dragged on for years.

Minchin says the news that Gilchrest is an informant shines light on his concerns.

"Police agents rarking up demonstrators and then going into court giving evidence that is false and totally counterproductive, or trying to do such - that's another level above just merely snooping," says Minchin.

Minchin says Gilchrest breached legal privilege by forwarding his witness evidence to the police before it was heard and his behavior in court may have negatively impacted on the judge's decision and damages awarded.

Gilchrest's original evidence said police pepper sprayed Oosterman several times while handcuffed screaming on the ground, when Oosterman had been pepper sprayed once while standing.

In the court's video evidence army-fatigue wearing Gilchrest is clearly seen provoking the situation by yelling at and pushing security guards.

Gilchrest turned up to court wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a gun and the words "This is my Glock, her name is Susan, there are many like her, but this one's mine."

During the court case Gilchrest stayed in a four star hotel.

Oosterman says Gilchrest's only known source of income is a weekly payment of $600 from his police handlers.

"Rob turned a family protest, which had a permit and involved police in its organisation from day one, into a situation that led to me gaining the unwanted title of New Zealand's first pepper sprayed protester."

Oosterman says Gilchrest tried to cause panic at the protest by calling an ambulance after he was pepper sprayed despite Oosterman saying he didn't need one.

Oosterman hopes this case won't take another three years like the last one.

ENDS

CONTACT

Simon Oosterman is available for interview on 021 922 551 or at home on 09 817 9222.

Lawyer Graham Minchin is available for interview on 021 555 218