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Waihopai Three: can't pay, won't pay

Thursday 1 Sep 2011 6:15 a.m.

By 3news.co.nz staff

The Waihopai Three will be back in court today, appealing after the Crown was awarded the right to pursue damages against them.

Last year, priest Peter Murnane, teacher Adrian Leason and farmer Sam Land were found not guilty of burglary and wilful damage after they broke in to the Waihopai spy base in 2008 and slashed one of two inflatable domes.

They did it because they believed that by disabling the spy base, run by the Government Communications Security Bureau, they would be saving lives in Iraq.

The Wellington High Court has granted the Crown the right to seek US$1.2 million for the cost of replacing the dome.

Last night, Associate Judge David Gendall said letting them get away with the damage would be a "mask for anarchy".

"he notion that the court might exonerate vigilante action is highly problematic," he said. "To take this approach, as I see it, would inevitably lead to unacceptable precedents being set in a range of areas."

In the trial the trio used the “claim of right” defence, saying they damaged the satellites to save lives in Iraq.

“I’m a pensioner so they might just dock my pension for the next 500 years but I don’t think I will last that long," Mr Murnane said in August.

Mr Leason says he has no moral obligation to pay the bill and it’s his effort to “inspire in the judge a sense of curiosity in the law and a curiosity that secrecy is not ok.

"We don’t keep secrets in New Zealand”.

Father Murnane told the Dominion Post even if they were made to pay up, they wouldn't.

"We're not running anywhere: we'll simply turn out our pockets and say `You're claiming it costing $1.2m, and if it does – and that's a big if – the fact is we have no money, nor would we pay."'

He says if the Government's spy agency was able to prove the communications base was not being used to assist the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, they'd do a "whip around" and put things right.

"If we're in error and our sources are wrong and we've been misled, then that's our problem and I'm sure we'll be able to do a whip-around and put things right.

"I'm not asking for everyone to start singing Kumbaya and play happy families ... but what we can hope for is a reasonable level of transparency around the Iraq war in particular."

Green Party MP Keith Locke has backed the three peace activists, saying the Crown is just being "vindictive" after losing the initial case.

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