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11 November 2022

Letter: Search for truth and justice

Thursday 6 April 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion

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Letter: Search for truth and justice
Former Australian detective and private investigator Rod Henderson. PHOTO: AL WILLIAMS 21092415

Dear Editor, Lissette Gonzalez Brito disappeared seven years ago and for all that time, I have fought tooth and nail to get her justice.

That’s seven years of campaigning to get the Cook Islands justice system to wake up and take notice. All I ever wanted is a fresh investigation and for an open coronial inquest. Regrettably and for too long the system in this island nation has been found wanting and nobody in authority seems concerned.

To begin with, the Cook Islands Police never had jurisdiction to lead the investigation. Lissette’s highly suspicious disappearance occurred in international waters. The Zangano was an Australian flagged vessel, and its skipper Alex Roehrs was an Australian citizen. Granted the Cook Islands Police could assist, but not do it alone. From what I now know, they were right to detain Roehrs while they took his laptop to Australia for analysis, but that’s all.

I contend that a new inquiry must be led by an Australian police agency who are far better equipped to get to the truth.

In my quest to not let Lissette be forgotten, I have encountered willful and prolonged obstruction from the Cook Islands Police and Justice Departments.

It seems that the police administration has developed a ‘siege mentality’ and instinctively go into lockdown, whenever they are called upon to give an account of their activities.

Their leader has no voice, and any police newsworthy related issue is filtered through a media journalist. If I didn’t know better, I would say the Commissioner was under a gag-order.

I have found to my chagrin, that firing–off requests and reports to the Police is time-wasting and fruitless. The only effective way to be heard is through the media. To this end this case has been extensively covered in the local Cook Islands media and on the internet.

I would at this time also like to highlight two other matters of concern.

In a story published in this paper on 28 January 2023, the Minister of Justice is quoted as saying he would not release any information on the status of three outstanding cases that related to inquests I was inquiring about.

He further stated, “It would not be a good look on the Coroner and the Ministry” if I used the information in a book.

All I can say, it’s a sad day for this country, when public information is withheld on the whim of a Minister of the Crown, who is more concerned with appearances, than the search for truth and justice.

The second matter I want to raise, is that in this same article it is mentioned that Justice of the Peace John Whitta is the coroner, and that he would determine how much information would be released. It is now three months down the track, and with all due respect Mr. Whitta, I am still waiting!

However, I would like those in power to explain to me, and the public at large, how it is that a Justice of the Peace can be a coroner?

The Cook Islands Coroners Act 1979-80 (Section 2) clearly states, that only a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of New Zealand of five years standing, or a Commissioner of the High Court with 12 months experience, or the Registrar of the High Court of the Cook Islands, can be a coroner.

Unless Mr. Whitta is one of above, how can he be a judicially appointed coroner.

I await a response.

Rod Henderson