Coronavirus: Kaikohe couple 'harassed', 'illegally detained' at COVID-19 community roadblock on trip to supermarket

A Northland couple was so terrified after being "harassed and illegally detained" by a "masked aggressor" at a community COVID-19 roadblock that they were forced to call the police for help.

Rata and her husband were driving to do their weekly supermarket shop in Kaikohe when they were stopped at a Tai Tokerau Border Control checkpoint, and then "detained" when they didn't hand over their home address.

The roadblocks, set up by former Maori Party MP Hone Harawira, have been in place since last month.

They were established with the intention of stopping international tourists travelling around the country during the coronavirus crisis, but their main function now is to prevent Kiwis breaking their household 'bubbles' during the alert level 4 lockdown.

Initially, Rata said, it was "all fine"; she and her husband were stopped by two men at the checkpoint, and they waved at each other.

"I thought 'OK, this looks good'," she recalled to Leah Panapa on Magic Talk on Tuesday night.

"But then I heard someone say 'No, no, no, stop them'. So we were pulled over and a lady started rapping on the window, which was up for safety reasons [as] we didn't have masks on.

"She asked where we were going and I had a notepad and wrote 'we're locals and we're going to get groceries'. Then she asked where I lived, but you don't give a masked stranger your address."

Rata says four volunteers then surrounded their vehicle. She had "no clue" who they were, and they didn't give their names or explain the function of their checkpoint.

As this was all occurring, Rata rang 111 and urged police to help them, as "it was evident they weren't going to let us through".

"I looked around and there was no police I could speak to... [The volunteers] detained us for several minutes, [repeatedly] asking where we live," she said.

"You know what's pretty disturbing: someone took a photo of my license plate, and I felt marked at that point. Why do you need to take a photo of my license plate?

"[One volunteer] leaned into my window several times. I was terrified - what if they pulled the door open and potentially infected us? I don't know who they've been interacting with - Kaikohe has one of the few testing stations in the area, and people were going there to get tested.

"It was pretty terrifying, because we live rural and there's no one in shouting distance for help if anything did happen."

After being told to go to a holding area and await more questions, the pair started driving forward - but then veered off and continued straight through the checkpoint. They were relieved to note they weren't being chased.

They were then able to complete their supermarket shop, and by the time they came back through the roadblock, the police had spoken to those at the checkpoint to tell them to stand down.

"We went through the checkpoint, and the folks who were manning it were sitting down at the side," she recounted.

Wally Haumaha, Deputy Commissioner of Maori, Pacific and Ethnic Services,  told Newshub police were aware of the incident involving Rata and her husband.

"No person should be prevented from accessing essential services and Police has engaged with those operating checkpoints and have advised them on the appropriate way of engaging with members of the public," he said.

"Police has previously spoken around Iwi-led checkpoints - while our officers are not deployed to them, we do have staff visiting them to provide community reassurance and ensure they are operating safely."

Despite reassurances from the police, Rata is now scared to do grocery shopping by herself - and feels "marked" after her license plate was photographed.

"I dare not go out alone anymore, as these roadblocks have been announced as 24/7 from now on," she said.

"For the first time in our years living here in our little farm, I locked my doors last night.

"While I understand the fear that motivates the roadblocks, it is not legal... When I have to choose between giving personal details to a masked aggressor and getting food, we have a problem."