The saga of a Kaitaia couple run off their own land by illegal occupiers is a travesty that should never be allowed to happen again, anywhere in New Zealand.

Cecil Williams first reached out to me last year in utter frustration and exhaustion at the lack of support he’d received from Far North District Council or the under-resourced local police.

The occupiers never pursued a legitimate Waitangi Tribunal process to claim the land. In fact, their grievance was over a single pohutukawa tree, part of which Cecil had cut down in 2021. The tree was not listed on the Schedule of Notable Trees or under formal council protection.

Cecil and Marna have had their property rights trampled on, and now an isolated community risks losing a GP and a neighbour of 35 years. But the worst of it is the precedent this crime sets. It reinforces the dangerous message of the Ihumātao and Shelly Bay debacles – that a small, noisy group can illegally camp on someone else’s land and be rewarded for it.

Demoralised by the occupation, Cecil abandoned plans for a dream home and offered to sell local iwi the land, but they wouldn’t cough up. The squatters figured that if they refused to budge eventually the council would step in with ratepayer money, and that’s exactly what’s happened. Cecil and Marna were forced to accept a meagre offer from the council, losing more than $130,000 because no-one else would buy an occupied section.

Political parties that fail to condemn illegal land occupations are complicit in the crime committed against Cecil and his wife. The Police need to update their resource sharing protocols to nip illegal land occupations in the bud. In the meantime, I’d like to see my fellow Northland-based MPs stand in solidarity with Cecil and Marna. I hope they choose to stay in the beautiful North.

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