Four family members in court after police called in to end Māori land dispute

Four members of the same family have appeared in the High Court at Wellington today after being arrested in a rare civil case where police were called in to end a Māori land dispute.

A locked gate to the land at the centre of the dispute. Source: 1 NEWS

Bruce Smith, 60, Ruby Smith, 62, and their daughters Kreslea, 32, and Jarna, 35, appeared via video link after being arrested on a remote farm near Wairoa in Hawke's Bay.

Today, Justice Grice told the Smiths that, in releasing them at large from custody, "this was your last warning".

They've been at loggerheads with their wider family, more than 500 shareholders and the Māori Trustee, who all have interests in the multiply-owned Ruatawhiri Station. 

Bruce Smith lost the lease to work it in 2014.

The family had been prohibited by the Māori Land Court to enter or occupy the station, and the High court had issued an arrest warrant in May.

They in-turn tried to trespass court staff and police from the farm, with police expressing concern about Bruce Smith's "aggressive and belligerent" behaviour. 

One previous court decision noted that: "The central problem is that Bruce Smith and his immediate whānau appear to believe that it is for them to make all key decisions concerning the estate and to control distribution of income and benefits."

Going near the farm and homestead would mean being held in contempt of court and family members could face imprisonment or a fine, Justice Grice said.

Bruce Smith promised to stay away during proceedings and daughter Kreslea gave an impassioned speech that she had evidence to prove the family owned the land outright.

Civil arrests in relation to Māori land are extremely rare. Official information released to 1 NEWS from the Ministry of Justice reveals that since 2000 there has only ever been one arrest order issued by the High Court in relation to Māori land.

See our earlier coverage of the story here.