Almost one year after the killing of 23 year old Maori man Steven Wallace by an armed policeman in Waitara on April 30, 2000, we are no nearer to an explanation of why the life of a young man armed only with a baseball bat was needlessly cut short by at least four bullets. An Official Police Inquiry followed by a Police Complaints Authority review both found no fault on the part of the police in the killing. The Wallace family independent inquiry has come to nothing. It is time to demand a full, independent public inquiry to get to the truth behind the killing. Class Struggle supports a petition calling for such an inquiry as the first step to getting justice for Steven Wallace.


The police cover up of the killing of Steven Wallace could be called a grave miscarriage of justice if it were not normal for the state forces to evade justice. That is bad enough. What is worse is the victimisation of members of the Wallace family. False accusations that supporters of the Wallace family have harassed eyewitnesses to the shooting have not been followed up by police charges. Such accusations show that there is a red neck reactionary element in Waitara willing to back the police even if the price is racial division.

Back in 1981 there were similar accusations hurled at anti-Springbok Tour activists by pro-tour supporters whose claims were also unsubstantiated. Like all reaction, its ultimate aim is to increase the presence of police to protect property and to keep a check on those who dare to challenge the rule of law.

Four and a half months after the shooting of her son be Keith Abbott, while in a state of despair, Raewyn Wallace and her daughter Kelly were arrested allegedly for criminal harassment of Abbott’s wife. This charge carries a maximum of 2 years jail plus a fine. But even this charge after being taken to court has a question mark hanging over it. The credibility of the charge has yet to be established so it has been remanded to a later date. Stalling for time seems to be the only avenue left to the police on this issue

There was no compassion shown toward the mother and sister of the victim who were immediately thrown in jail in New Plymouth. The police would have preferred Wellington to remove the Wallaces from the scene (after the example of Te Whiti?)

Yet another flimsy charge of assault against Raewyn Wallace was brought by a woman police officer whose arm got caught in a car window as it was being wound up. This was used as a clumsy ploy to try to bargain with the Wallaces in the event that they brought a complaint against the police. According to barrister, Gary Gotlieb (NZHerald 13-5-00) it is police practice to "play hardball" with the accused by trumping up extra charges, only to have them withdrawn later provided a complaint was withdrawn.

A curfew then placed on the Wallace women was open-ended and was to last for many months. The sequel to the curfew was the arrest of James Wallace, Steven’s dad, two weeks after the arrest of his wife and daughter. Because the curfew meant that they could not drive him home from the local pub, five months after the shooting of Steven, James was arrested for excess alcohol and resisting arrest after trying to drive himself home. He also was thrown in the slammer.

James couldn’t even grieve in peace for his son without being tormented by the very police responsible for Steven’s death. Being sorry for his actions and admitting having made a mistake, James at least showed remorse and compassion. But he never got that in return. He was sentenced to a spell of periodic detention on January 25.

The victimisation of the Wallace family by the local police especially in the early months following the shooting, included continuous surveillance patrols passing the Wallace home, a show of force to intimidate and demoralise the family. More recently, the patrols have become less frequent only because the police believe that there is no longer a threat to their authority. Continued harassment of the Wallace family would also have been bad PR even for the pro-Police supporters in Waitara.

The state of unease that existed since the shooting in the township, culminated in the vandalised desecration of Steven’s memorial that stood on the place where he was shot. On Wednesday 23 March some time during the night, the memorial was removed. Speculation as to who was responsible would point the finger at local business interests as prime suspects, because the presence of the memorial has been seen as negative for business.

It was a constant reminded that their commercial property was worth more than the life of Steven Wallace. After all his only crime on the night he was shot was to break the windows of a number of business premises along with those of the police station. The business interests of Waitara have refused to pay any price for this killing. That payment continues to be heaped onto the heads of the Wallace family who have had to endure insult and injury beyond the comprehension of ordinary people.


Days after the shooting and the beginning of the Official Police Inquiry, the family felt compelled to begin their own independent inquiry headed by John Rowan QC. Under-funded and resourced they were certain that the outcome of the Police Inquiry would clear the officer who shot Steven of any criminal liability and so it was necessary to establish, free of constraints of police bias, a case for an eventual prosecution of the police but more especially Keith Abbott.

The Wallace Family Organising Committee was set up geared towards raising funds for the Inquiry. But it has been difficult coming to terms with the huge cost of this inquiry. By the end of 2000 the cost in lawyers fees had hit a staggering $100,000. No amount of hangis and raffles are able to keep pace with such costs.

At present other measures are being looked into to meet costs. Early approaches to local iwi authorities and local labour MP Harry Duynhoeven who has an office in Waitara have fallen on deaf ears. Known for his right-wing views within the Labour caucus, it was not expected that Duynhoeven would be of much help or even sympathetic.

Barely a month after the Official Police Inquiry began the final report was submitted by Detective Inspector Brian Pearce who headed the Inquiry. An extremely speedy process one might think given the enormity of the subject, but from the police point of view, one that was necessary.

To understand this process, it is necessary to understand the role of the Police Complaints Authority. On the termination of the Official Police Inquiry, it is the role of the PCA to conduct a review of that Inquiry. All matters subject to that review are deemed secret and inadmissible in a court of law according to the PCA Act 1988. This means basically that none of its findings can be scrutinised by the general public under the Official Information Act.

The claim by the president of the Criminal Bar Association Richard Earwaker, that PCA head judge Neville Jaine is "independent" is an interesting one. First of all, it is recorded that judge Jaine defends the use of police officers in his investigation they have a "greater feel for what is going on in their organisation". With such an attitude it is impossible to accept that any "independence" exists. Even if non-police investigators were used, there is no way that the PCA is ‘independent’ as its record shows.

What this meant in practice for the for the Wallace Family inquiry, was the withholding of information by the police who could claim that such information was now subject to the secrecy of the PCA Act. So nine months after the Official Police inquiry ended, the Wallace Family inquiry has been left going around in circles at enormous financial and emotional cost.


Independence should mean that an inquiry is conducted by a body that has no official connection to the judiciary, law enforcement, or government funded authorities. The terms of reference should not be defined by the state or confined to a narrow set of conditions whose context has to be seen as part of a much wider picture (see our article on ‘ The Police Killing of Steven Wallace’ in Class Struggle #33 June/July, 2000).

The issue of funding by the Government for such a body is another matter completely. Just as legal aid is justified to enable everybody regardless of income to a defence in the justice system, state funding of an independent inquiry is also a basic right. What is more, government funding is met out of taxation which has its origins in the surplus value of workers’ unpaid labour. Where workers are killed by the state, the very least we can demand is that the state pays for an independent inquiry into the killing.

In the current political climate, the only practicable means of public seeking funding for an independent inquiry is by sheer numbers through a public petition to parliament. The focus of such a petition should be the setting up of a body of inquiry aimed at replacing the current PCA whose contribution to justice has been a bloody joke. The case of Steven Wallace would be its first assignment, but by no means its last.

Future families of victims of police violence should not have to endure petitioning every time there is a killing. The Wallace family has at least taken the huge step by deciding on a petition to seek justice for Steven. All workers should support their action. At every occasion we should stress that this inquiry needs to be truly independent of the state.

Role of Unions

As a member of the Freezing Workers’ Union for nearly 40 years, James Wallace like most of his fellow union workmates was to receive the butt end of the massive closure of Waitara Freezing Works. Around the same time, Raewyn Wallace as a member of the Textile Workers’ Union was to lose her job at Swanndri when that worksite was closed down.

` In both instances a union strategy of holding off militant action to save jobs backfired with the closures. The potential to mobilise the large workforce in the area to fight for workers’ control to keep industry and jobs in the area was lost. What followed instead in Waitara was a demoralisation that is an indictment of the union movement. Half the workforce is unemployed.

As we said in our original article on Steven’s killing (CS #33), you cannot isolate his death from the general economic depression that has visited the areas since the closure of these major employers. In our view this would be a major focus of an independent inquiry.

With the tragedy of Steven Wallace’s death, there has emerged the opportunity for the union movement to redeem itself by throwing off the shackles of "economism" and supporting an open political campaign to petition for an independent inquiry. Union members can distribute and get fellow workers to sign the petition.

Featuring that campaign in newsletters and newspapers would show that the unions have a commitment to supporting workers who have become unemployed, but who remain workers all the same. In terms of taking a lead on the issue, the only recognisable group that has the means and connections both nationally and internationally is the union movement.

Calls by Maori nationalist groups to seek a separate course of action would hinder and dilute a more effective campaign built around the unions. What should happen is a coordination of both groupings for a common end.

  • Raise the Steven Wallace campaign at every worksite, every union meeting and conference. Sign the Petition!
  • For an Independent Public Inquiry!
  • An end to the Police Complaints Authority.
Iwi advisory Boards

Within days of Steven’s death, a special hui was played out in Rotorua. Invited guests included the PM Helen Clark, Acting Police Commissioner Rob Robinson and Race Relations Conciliator Rajan Prasad.

The purpose of the hui was to thrash out strategies to reduce high offending among Maori. 12 iwi signed a memorandum of understanding with the police to this effect. What has resulted, has been the establishment of ‘Iwi Advisory Boards’ charged with "giving Maori a say on strategic policy initiatives and frontline policing’ (NZ Herald 20-5-00).

What this amounts to is little more than an increase in the recruitment of Maori police officers just like Keith Abbott. A situation calculated to set Maori on collision course with fellow Maori. Right now Maori police escorts are protecting scabs on the wharves and other sites from Maori workers who stand to lose their jobs. A situation of divide and rule so often seen before as in the 1951 lockout when young Maori were drafted as scabs.

This situation is going to get worse as Maori workers come under increasing pressure for jobs, and as the gaps in income and education continue to grow. There will be hundreds of young Maori Steven Wallace’s who reach they limit and rage against the machine only to find themselves up against armed police who to date have got away with their killing of Steven Wallace.

It is up to Maori workers to take a stand to stop their iwi leadership getting sucked into these divide-and-rule policies and to take the lead in the unions to build a movement for Justice for Steven Wallace.

Sign the Justice for Steven Petition!

Get your workmates to sign also!

From Class Struggle, No 38 April-May 2001

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