Friday, June 14, 2013

Mike Butler: Treaty try-on forces farmer to sell

Allan Titford did not know what he had stepped into when he bought land 40km north of Dargaville that he intended to farm and subdivide. That was nearly 27 years ago. Within seven years, he was one of several farmers forced off their land as a result of trumped-up treaty claim and a farcical Waitangi Tribunal inquiry.

The Te Roroa claim is not the only “grievance” that started out as an opportunistic try-on that gained a kind of standing by repeated petitions to parliament.
What is unique about the Maunganui Bluff story is that a wronged farmer did a parallel inquiry that provided chapter and verse of the bias and incompetence of the Waitangi Tribunal.

Titford, then aged 26, bought 1746 acres (706.511ha) at Maunganui Bluff for $600,000 on November 15, 1986. The land was valued in two parcels – one as a farm, and the other as coastal area zoned for subdivision that he intended to sell for residential housing or lifestyle blocks. The proceeds would make him debt-free.(1)

To get into the venture, he paid a deposit of $46,000 and borrowed $750,000 in a two-year interest-only mortgage with the Rural Bank at 22.5 percent because he thought the subdivision would take two years to complete. Debt servicing would cost him around $168,000 a year.

He did not know that part of his farm would soon become the subject of a treaty claim made possible by a policy enacted one year earlier, when Geoffrey Palmer and the Lange Labour government enabled the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate claims back to 1840. Every iwi with any inkling of an issue sent in a claim.

Te Roroa, a sub-group of the Ngati Whatua tribe, lodged a claim for 90 acres of the coastal part of Titford’s land, known as Manuwhetai, on April 15, 1987.(2) This group also claimed a 22-acre area known as Whangaiariki on the neighbouring farm owned by a farmer named Don Harrison. Manuwhetai was some of the area Titford planned to sell to pay off the mortgage.

Titford heard about the claim in the media so went to the Maori Land Court in Whangarei to look up the history of his land. A court official showed Titford the file and gave him a copy of the deed of sale of the Maunganui Block to the Crown in 1876.

The file on the Maunganui and Waipoua blocks that Titford saw was substantial and included all the survey maps, surveyors’ field books, letters, telegrams, gazette notices, Native Land Court deliberations, parliamentary inquiries, as well as the deeds of sale.

Titford’s solicitor confirmed freehold title could be traced back to the 1876 sale. They found that Maori Affairs Minister Koro Wetere had been advised, on May 26, 1987, that Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki should not be vested in Maori ownership unless claimants could produce new evidence to the contrary.

The advice to Wetere referred to a special sitting of the Native Land Court held at Kaihu, from July 6-7, 1939.(3) The presiding judge, F.O.V.Acheson, reported to Chief Judge G.P. Shepherd, who after further investigation, recommended to parliament on July 2, 1942, that Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki should not be vested in Maori ownership.(4)

Shepherd gave these reasons for his recommendation: The only reserve provided in the 1876 sale was a 250-acre eel fishery reserve known as Taharoa for vendor Parore Te Awha; Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki were not mentioned in the deed of sale, or in the inquiry into the sale held in 1876; the sale deed had a certificate to show that vendors Parore Te Awha and Tiopira Kinaki understood the terms of the sale; that deed had a certificate to show no fraud had taken place; and a memo dated February 12, 1876, confirmed that Parore got Taharoa.(5)

The 1876 sale deed, an inquiry in 1876, and a further inquiry in 1939 quite clearly confirmed that Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki had been sold with the Maunganui block. In addition, the Maori vendors made no mention of forgotten reserves in their lifetimes or in their wills.

Titford did not expect the head of the Maori Affairs Department in Whangarei, Tom Parore, say that he was going to use his influence in government to get the Titford farm because his people wanted it. That was in April of 1987. Soon the young farmer became aware that he was heading for a fight.(6)

Meanwhile, the subdivision project was going to plan. By late July 1987, Titford had pre-sold sections and other land to a total value of $250,000, and on August 1, he and his new wife Sue moved into the five-bedroom 3000 square foot homestead overlooking their new farm. But, six days later squatters moved on to the beach part of the farm, in force, erecting signs alleging to prospective buyers that the land had been “stolen” from the Maori owners.(7)

Soon Dargaville police started behaving as if claimants were correct, as did politicians and Government Ministers, and this was three years before Waitangi Tribunal hearings got under way.

Under pressure from claimants and police, Titford did further research. He found that the so-called “forgotten reserves”, Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki, were first “remembered” in 1899 after all vendors involved in the 1876 sale had died.

When a person named Netana Patuawa died in 1898, the next year his son Wi went to the Native Land Court and alleged that he had been left land at Maunganui Bluff. That prompted a letter on behalf of an elderly Te Rore Taoho, who had participated in the proceeds of the sale of the Maunganui block, to surveyor general S. Percy Smith, seeking land or money to replace what he described as “his land at the bluff” that had been sold. In this way a claim was born.

Taoho’s claim was knocked back on December 30, 1899, but claimants continued to assert that Whangaiariki was a native reserve and Manuwhetai was a wahi tapu, and these assertions were submitted to the Stout-Ngata Commission in 1908. Just 10 years after the claim was conjured up out of thin air, the Stout-Ngata Commission recommended that the areas should be reserved for Maori Occupation under Part II of the Native Land Settlement Act 1907.

Nothing further eventuated for 22 years until December 8, 1930, when Native Minister Apirana Ngata wrote to Prime Minister Gordon Coates saying that local Maori claimed that Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki had been withheld from the sale of the Maunganui block, basing the claim on Plan 3297/8. Ngata noted that there is no record of the authority for the survey and the only reserve withheld was the 250-acre Taharoa reserve.(9)

The next year, Judge Acheson requested an inquiry into the titles of Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki. An inquiry started in 1932, but was adjourned in 1936 when Tahaora reserve’s largest shareholder, Lou Parore, petitioned parliament claiming that Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki should have been set aside with the 250 acre Taharoa reserve from the Maunganui block sale in 1876.(10)

A special sitting of the Native Land Court was held at Kaihu on July 6, 1939, where Acheson heard the Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki claim with Lou Parore for the claimants and V.R. Meredith for the Crown.

While Acheson recommended that Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki should be vested in Maori ownership, chief judge Shepherd after further investigation found otherwise and made his recommendation accordingly, as outlined above.

Claimant Lou Parore died in 1953, and there was no further activity on this claim until 1985, when the new look into old issues was permitted. This policy change created the environment for a vicious campaign against the young Maunganui Bluff farmer Allan Titford.

Titford reported verbal abuse, stock thefts, intimidating would-be buyers and suppliers, vandalizing signs, trespass, cutting or removing fences or opening gates so stock would wander, shooting stock, putting sand in the engine and radiator and sugar in the diesel of Titford’s bulldozer on one occasion, and running it into a lake on another, making threats with a gun, assault, and looting his farm.

Buildings were burned in the battle. The vacant house on his property was burnt down in the early hours of December 6, 1987, the day after Titford removed, under police supervision, squatter buildings and signs.

A report by Detective Constable G.C. Smith, dated November 11, 1988, records a complaint by Titford of an attempted arson of his house on October 19, 1988. Police wrote that either Titford had set the scene up to look like an arson attempt or that it was set up by a member of the local Maori community to show how vulnerable the Titfords were. The report noted that Titford had no insurance cover.

The Titford homestead burned to the ground on the night of July 4, 1992. Titford wrote that claimants never admitted to the second fire and wondered why they should burn it down. The High Court at Whangarei this year found Titford guilty of causing that fire.

Police failed to act when Titford complained, but jumped on him if claimants complained. The Far North was just like the Deep South in the United States, with the white farmer treated like a pre-civil rights black.

Claimant activity meant the 90-acre coastal area on Titford’s farm that the Maori owners were happy to sell a little over 100 years earlier, was suddenly riddled with pa sites, ancient cultivation areas, burial sites and sacred areas and became imbued with great spiritual significance -- a familiar story to any landowner subject to a wahi tapu claim.

During the campaign, claimants produced an old plan, titled Plan 3297-8, which showed the two reserves named Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki. The 1939 inquiry also referred to this old plan.

Now here’s the thing – the plan attached to the 1876 sale and purchase of the Maunganui block was the official plan, Plan 3253, which had all boundaries coloured in bright red, colour coded for the illiterate to show the area sold. The only reserve marked on that plan and mentioned in the deed was 250 acres at Lake Taharoa in the south. The land described as Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki were not marked or mentioned on that map.

Plan 3297/8 was possibly created by surveyors Barnard and Stephens for a landowner named Wi Pou of the Ngaitu hapu as part of a proposal to buy two reserves on the south side of Maunganui Bluff from the Crown. Those reserves were to be named Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki.

The evidence shows that Plan 3297/8 was not a Crown survey. The 1939 Acheson inquiry attributed it to surveyor J.S. Smith because it was included in that surveyor’s collection of surveys known as Field Book 13. It remained in government files as a record of a proposal that did not proceed.

Further evidence that the old plan was a proposal and not a legal survey appeared in a telegram from surveyor S. Percy Smith sent on October 20, 1875.

The Deputy Inspector of Surveys, G.F. Allen, had written to Smith to say that the map (Plan 3297/8) awaited approval. S. Percy Smith replied to the Inspector of Surveys, Theophilus Heale, referring to Deed No. 864 (the number allocated to the Maunganui block sale deed) saying (in abbreviated telegram phrasing) “Approve sketch maps not. Take care that the fact is brought out before the court that the surveys are not made”.(11)

In other words, the plan could not be approved as a survey because it did not comply with legislation. It was a compass survey, which Heale described as “so rude and uncertain that it could hardly be called surveying”. Plan 3297/8 was not an approved plan and could not be used as evidence for anything other than an old proposal that did not proceed.(12)

Chief judge Shepherd agreed. In his 1942 report on Lou Parore’s petition he wrote: “Whatever the purpose of the survey of the two parcels was, it was not done with the express or, at all events, the immutable purpose of having the areas reserved from the sale to the Crown”.(13)

Titford found without difficulty the evidence presented so far at the Department of Lands and Survey, the Maori Land Court, and National Archives. But when the Waitangi Tribunal hearing into the Te Roroa claim was gearing up in 1989, a researcher asserted that some key documents could not be found. These included the Hokianga Maori Land Court Minutes, the outward letter books of the Inspectorate of Surveys, the Maori Affairs file on the 1939 inquiry, and the Te Tai Tokerau Land Court File.

Files in the office where a claimant worked that were complete in 1987 were empty by 1989.

Further suspicions that evidence was tampered with arose when Titford found that the block file for Maunganui at the Department of Lands and Survey was nearly empty, and the file on Manuwhetai was empty. Plan 3253 that was presented to the Native Land Court but not presented to the Waitangi Tribunal plus the original of Plan 3297/8 were found by chance sticking out of another drawer in a different location of the archive. It appeared that someone had hidden the plans in plain sight.

Other suspicions that the Waitangi Tribunal’s inquiry would be a farce were confirmed on April 24, 1990, two years before the tribunal had completed its report, when the Crown agreed to a “statement of fact” with Te Roroa that, “the lands known as Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki had been taken in error by the Crown”.

The Te Roroa Report 1992 recommended that all the land that should have been set aside from the Crown purchases of the Maunganui, Waipoua, Waimamaku, and Wairau lands be returned to Te Roroa. This covered areas in private ownership.(14) It was clear that the Waitangi Tribunal had ignored the exhaustive process that the Native Land Court had gone through to ascertain who the Maori landowners were, and asserted that the privately done plan showing the two reserves that claimants said had been left out of the 1876 transaction was official.

In this way, the tribunal re-wrote these details of the history of the Maunganui block to suit the claimants and the Crown’s unsubstantiated claim that, “the lands known as Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki had been taken in error by the Crown”.

Claimant harassment prevented Titford from completing the subdivision and selling the sections within the two-year mortgage period. Bank interest caused through the Crown stopping the sale of the beach side sections had caused Titford's debt to the bank to escalate four times over, giving him no other option but to sell under duress to the Crown.

Successive governments had made lowball offers to Titford from early 1989 but it was not until December 22, 1995, that he received $1-million, which included $600,000 of stock and plant, plus $100,000 spent on the subdivision. The National Bank (which bought the Rural Bank in 1992) received $1.8-million and his other creditors $425,000. Neither the bank nor the Crown has provided audited accounts for these amounts.

Federated Farmers had obtained a valuer’s report which recommended an ex gratia payment to Titford of $2.26-million plus $2.3-million to creditors.

The amount was not enough to get another farm either in New Zealand or in Tasmania, where the Titford family went to escape harassment.

Throughout the saga, a series of government Ministers uttered soothing words to reassure the nation that privately held land would not be affected by treaty claims. But private land most certainly was affected. The owners of a string of farms either side of Maunganui Bluff were forced to sell to the Crown at prices below market rates.

The tribal land grab at Maunganui Bluff showed how so-called “non-binding” Waitangi Tribunal recommendations had a devastating impact on the value of private property. The issue became so heated that on August 20, 1993, Fisheries Minister Doug Kidd introduced an amendment to section 6 of the Treaty of Waitangi Act, by adding subsection 4A which said “the tribunal shall not recommend . . . (a) the return to Maori ownership of any private land; or (b) the acquisition by the Crown of any private land.”(15)

The Te Roroa settlement in 2008 awarded Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki among 24 sites totalling 2000 hectares to the claimants. Financial redress included cash and Crown-owned land to the value of $9.5-million, as well as a 50-year right of first refusal to buy certain surplus Crown-owned properties in the area.(16)

As for the Titford farm, after Manuwhetai was given to claimants, the remaining 1500 acres has been placed in the government land bank for treaty settlements. It sits idle and grows gorse. No subdivision eventuated on the coastal area.

One NZ Foundation researcher Ross Baker substantially helped Titford by obtaining thousands of documents, many under the Official Information Act, and helping write Robbery by deceit, which collates these documents with diary entries.

Footnote: Titford was jailed for 24 years, on November 20, 2013, on charges including rape, child abuse, and burning down his own house. He faced 53 charges, was found not-guilty on 14, and 11 of the remainder were majority verdicts, according to his legal counsel John Moroney. 

1. Allan Titford, Robbery by Deceit – The real history of Maunganui Bluff, p149
2. Ibid, p149
3. Report of Proceedings on Inquiry into Petition No. 32/1937 re Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki blocks (Maunganui purchase)
4. Letter from Department of Maori Affairs to Minister, May 26, 1987. Robbery by deceit, p443
5. Report and Recommendation on Petition No. 32 of 1937 of L.W. Parore and another praying for an investigation as to the disposition and ownership of certain native reserves in the Maunganui Block, 1942, presented to the NZ Parliament pursuant to Section 23 of the Native Purposes Act 1938.
6. Robbery by Deceit, p71
7. Ibid, pp150-151
8. Robbery by deceit, p121
9. Ibid, p124
10. Ibid, p126
11. Telegram from S. Percy Smith to Theophilus Heale, October 20, 1875, in S. Percy Smith’s diary.
12. Secretary For Crown Lands - Registered Files - "Principles and Practice of Surveying" by Theophilus Heale.
13. Report and recommendation on Petition No. 32, 1937, of L.W. Parore and another praying for an investigation as to the disposition and ownership of certain native reserves in the Maunganui block
14. Te Roroa Report 1992,
15. Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975.
16. Te Roroa summary of settlement