Patrick Gower: Why the Thompson & Clark investigation matters

OPINION: The matey collusion between the Thompson & Clark private investigators and the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) spies has helped to create a climate of fear for Kiwis.

And worse, it's a commercial climate of fear because taxpayers end up paying the costs of Thompson & Clark providing the protection that is supposedly needed.

What we have is a member of the SIS and a private investigator jacking up security work over beers - security work that costs the taxpayer hundreds of thousands and potentially millions of dollars.

This kind of behaviour could be spread across many Government departments - 'security' contracts set up on the side, done by a private company that snoops on ordinary people.

We already knew Thompson & Clark were snooping on victims of the Christchurch earthquake on behalf of state-owned insurer Southern Response.

They made out that innocent Kiwis trying to get their insurance claims sorted were some kind of threat. They may even have been collecting information about a class action that claimants were preparing against Southern Response, which is their legal right.

That was shameful enough.

But now we know one of Thompson & Clark's directors, either Nick Thompson or Gavin Clark, were able to get the SIS into Southern Response with just one email.

The SIS weren't snooping - Thompson & Clark can do that. But they were able to get the SIS in to discuss "Protective Security Requirements" - protecting against major attacks. Thompson & Clark got the police involved in a similar way.

Yet the so-called "threats" were just insurance claimants - not terrorists. But when you add together Thompson & Clark's claims and their ability to have police and SIS on call you can see how a climate of fear is created.

Sadly, Southern Response's energy and taxpayer money should have been going towards solving insurance claims.

The emails that have been released also show the SIS spy jacking up a private 'de-bugging' or 'bug clearance' job for Thompson & Clark - referring a 'client'. That is appalling conduct - the spy agency is meant to be protecting New Zealand, it shouldn't be a side alley for a private investigator to get work.

There are several major questions now:

  • What kind of work were Thompson & Clark doing - were they snooping?
  • How did Thompson & Clark get the contracts - was it through 'back channels' like the mate in the SIS?
  • Was the work even needed - were the threats real or imagined?

This is now an all-of-Government investigation.

In addition to Southern Response, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the Department of Conservation (DOC), the Ministry of Health (MOH) and District Health Boards (DHBs) have been using the firm.

The Ministry of Primary Industries has admitted it may have been involved in "serious misconduct" with Thompson & Clark.

Otakaro Limited, a Crown-owned company in Christchurch set up to build Anchor projects was even using the firm.

It seems Thompson & Clark's tentacles were everywhere and the involvement goes back years.

So it is now a huge inquiry by the State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes - respected lawyer and former prosecutor Simon Mount QC has been called in to help which will add to the fear factor for people involved.

Thompson & Clark have not commented since Newshub broke the story - except to say they have always complied with the law of the land.

So why does the Thompson & Clark inquiry matter?

It matters because ordinary Kiwis were snooped and spied on by private investigators.

It matters because the taxpayer paid for this private snooping and spying.

It matters because the SIS spy service helped facilitate this kind of work.

It matters because this appears to be systemic throughout Government.

It matters because this is all based on creating a climate of fear that people make money from.

It matters most because this is not the Kiwi way, this is not what we do to each other as New Zealanders.

Patrick Gower is Newshub's National Correspondent