Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says Stuart Nash was 'venting frustration' in phone call that led to minister resigning

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says he felt Stuart Nash was just "venting" his frustration about the sentencing of an individual when he rang about a court judgement appeal. 

Nash resigned on Wednesday after admitting to previously ringing the Commissioner about whether he would consider appealing a court judgement that he believed was a "bad decision". He wasn't the Police Minister at the time. 

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins called Nash's actions "unwise" and a "serious error of judgement". The Cabinet Manual for ministers says ministers don't comment on or involve themselves in investigations or decisions around prosecutions. 

In a statement to Newshub on Wednesday evening, Coster said he recalls receiving the phone call from Nash where Nash "expressed frustration at the sentencing of an individual". 

"I regarded the phone call as a venting of that frustration, and nothing more. I felt this was a rhetorical question, not a request, and I did not take any action following the phone call. I cannot recall any other details about the case referenced."

He said the Policing Act 2008 states "the Commissioner must act independently of Government regarding the maintenance of law, investigations, and prosecution of offences. 

"I regard this independence as the single most important privilege Police has, and we guard that fiercely. This is a point I emphasise very clearly with Ministers."

Nash hasn't spoken to media since his resignation was announced on Wednesday afternoon, but the Prime Minister said Nash assured him that he has no connections to the individuals involved in the court case and that this is the only occasion a conversation of this nature has happened.

Hipkins said it was his understanding there was not an appeal in the case Nash raised with Coster. Feedback Hipkins had received was that "Nash's representations had no bearing on the Commissioner's decisions or the police's decisions".

The issue emerged after Nash told Newstalk ZB that he had once "phoned up the Police Commissioner and said surely you're going to appeal this". 

"I don't know if you remember when we were doing the firearms stuff, I was wandering around telling everyone that if you have an illegal firearm, you can face up to five years in jail. 

"This bloke didn't have a license, had illegal firearms, illegal ammunition and had guns without a licence, and got home detention. I think that was a terrible decision by the judge. Judges need to read the room on this."

He later dug in, emphasising he wasn't the Police Minister at the time.

"I was chewing the fat with a guy who was a mate about a decision that I thought was very bad in the circumstances that I had been involved in when I was the Minister of Police and buying back firearms and I'm going to leave it at that."

But later on Wednesday, he had tendered his resignation to Hipkins, who said Nash's actions didn't meet the expectations of the Cabinet Manual. 

"Stuart Nash has reflected on his actions and has tendered his resignation in the police portfolio. As such, I have accepted that resignation effective immediately and I have advised the Governor-General to accept it, which she has now done."

Police Ministers should have a good relationship with the Police Commissioner, but "that relationship should respect the independence of the police", Hipkins said.

"The independence of the police in making prosecutorial decisions is one we need to safeguard very clearly and also the independence of the courts and the separation between the executive and the courts and that we should not be criticising individual court decisions such as this."

The Cabinet Manual says: "Following a long-established principle, Ministers do not comment on or involve themselves in the investigation of offences or the decision as to whether a person should be prosecuted, or on what charge."

While Nash is gone as Police Minister, he retains his other ministerial portfolios. Hipkins said accepting accepting Nash's resignation was a "proportionate" approach to the issue.

But the Opposition want Nash gone from Cabinet. 

"The error of judgement is just so grave that this is an issue where he should resign from the Cabinet entirely," said National deputy leader Nicola Willis. 

"Nash is unfit to be Minister for Economic Development, Forestry, or Oceans and Fisheries either," said ACT leader David Seymour. "Stripping him of just his Police portfolio doesn't do justice to what a serious breach this is.

"The irony is that Nash's defence was that he wasn't Minister of Police at the time of his offence. Hipkins' weak response is to make sure he again isn't the Minister of Police."