Hard News by Russell Brown


Why did Stephen die?

"Stephen McIntyre was a good man." Those are the first words of Bomber Bradbury's blog post about the circumstances surrounding the death of his friend. If you knew Stephen, I think you'd understand why Bomber chose those words. They're basically the first words I wrote when I heard he was gone.

I first met Stephen more than 30 years ago, when he was a member of Ballon D'Essai, an engaging, mischievous group of art-punks from Christchurch Boys High School. He re-connected with me several years ago, in his role as an activist for cannabis reform. He was patient, dedicated and (unlike some of his colleagues in the pot lobby) responsible.

His last project was a Green Cross club near the School of Medicine, which acted as a medical marijuana dispensary for registered members who held prescriptions for pharmaceutical versions of cannabis. Stephen aimed to both provide a safe service and to create the conditions for law reform which would make operating such a service safer for him.

He knew I was sympathetic (we ran a guest post by him a couple of years ago) and he said he had something he wanted to discuss with me the week of July 16. I had to blow off the Friday meeting; I had friends in town for my fiftieth birthday party. I wasn't in a serious mood. On the day of my party, Saturday, July 22, Stephen took his own life.

It was only this past weekend I learned what happened, via Bomber's post and a related Herald on Sunday story by Bevan Hurley. In June, in the course of a somewhat confusing series of interactions with the police, Stephen had been charged with a cannabis offence after a search of the Green Cross premises.

On Monday, July 16, he was visited at his home by policemen who said they were conducting a "bail check". Bomber says:

What happened next is crucial to the question of whether or not the NZ Police used tactics that killed my friend. 

The Police intimidated Stephen outside the front of his house and claimed they could smell cannabis while demanding to know what he would plead and threatening him with further charges if he turned the issue into a campaign. 

It is now apparent that having the Police turn up at his home at night and demand to know what he was going to plead while threatening further charges had a terrible impact on Stephen. 

On Sunday 22nd of July, Stephen, terrified beyond his wits by the Police threats, took his own life.

Whatever happened, there is a significant problem with the rationale the police gave for visiting Stephen's house. It's invalid. He was on bail, but the only condition of that bail was that he continue to reside at his house, with his family. His movements were not restricted and he was under no curfew.

In a follow-up post, Bomber quotes Stephen's lawyer on the statement given to the Herald by police:

... there was no point or need for a Police visit as Stephen was not on a curfew condition of bail and was perfectly entitled to be away from his home at any time of the day or night. I have never known Police to make night time bail checks on clients where no curfew condition is in place.

Why did police take the highly unusual step of confronting Stephen in his own home, at night? Having determined that Stephen was living in his own home, as required by his bail conditions, why did they stick around? (A guitar student being tutored by Stephen at the time of the visit is emphatic that there was no smell of cannabis in the house.)

If there was an attempt by police to inimidate Stephen out of turning his prosecution into a campaign -- which he very probably would have done -- that would constitute grotesquely improper conduct. It simply is not the role of police to spare themselves political embarrassment by trying to coerce a citizen.

Bomber has done Stephen's memory a service by writing this story, and by sharing it with the HoS -- although he could ease up on the "EXCLUSIVE" and "BREAKING NEWS" chest-thumping, which doesn't seem appropriate.

He says he has more to come this week. I'll be waiting for it. A good man died, and I want to know why.

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