Private investigators still on the trail

  • Apr 27, 2021
  • Otago Daily Times

Oil Free Otago member Rosemary Penwarden said she thought her days of being followed by Thompson and Clark ended more than two years ago after the company was caught spying for Government departments.

But last week Ms Penwarden said she learned through a report on RNZ the private investigation firm had continued to spy on her in 2019 and 2020 — no longer on behalf of the Government, but for international oil giant OMV.

"You try not to get paranoid, but there’s often that feeling that you’re being watched," Ms Penwarden said.

"It’s pretty horrible and it’s pretty intimidating; this is not how I want my country to be.

"It’s scary. It’s laughable. It’s such an incredible waste of effort and time and money on a planet that is going down the gurgler."

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager reported, last week, after a two-year investigation, that climate change groups remained targets of Thompson and Clark after Government agencies were forbidden to use the private investigators.

He reported that in 2019 and 2020 a major focus for the private investigation firm, paid by clients from the oil and gas industry, was monitoring and helping to counter citizen groups concerned about climate change.

Investigation subjects included school children in the School Strike 4 Climate

movement.

And Ms Penwarden’s name came up again in his report.

RNZ reported Thompson and Clark was working for OMV when it actively sought to undermine the July 2019 Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Dunedin on offshore exploration drilling by OMV.

It was working for the oil company at the September 2019 Petroleum Conference at Queenstown’s Millennium Hotel.

And in January 2020 when OMV was drilling off the Otago coastlines.

In January 2020, Ms Penwarden was issued a trespass notice for 19 places around the country including the COSL Prospector drilling ship and support vessels operating 146km off the Otago coast.

Ms Penwarden was later convicted and discharged for wilful trespass after boarding OMV New Zealand support vessel Skandi Atlantic at Timaru in 2019.

But she said she now faces different charges in Dunedin in June stemming from a 2019 protest in Queenstown.

On the advice of her lawyer Ms Penwarden said she could only say the new charges were related to the Queenstown protest, "a satirical letter", and that she would be defending the charges.

But she now believed Thompson and Clark was at that protest, she said.

Two years ago, after a December 2018 State Services Commission report showed the private investigators had worked for the Government, she contacted the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to ask for any correspondence between MBIE and Thompson and Clark that might include her.

Ms Penwarden’s request for such correspondence referencing herself, Oil Free Otago, and another group she was associated with, the Coal Action Network — resulted in her receiving 417 pages of mostly redacted information at the time, she said.

Among the swathes of blacked out material she saw her name, her partner’s name, and where she lived, she said.

OMV New Zealand spokeswoman Jane Gower told RNZ that "OMV NZ, like many organisations, uses freely available public information to assess activities that might impact our operations".

"We respect the right of peaceful, legal protest but will take the appropriate steps when necessary if our people or businesses are under threat," she said.

Gavin Clark, of Thompson and Clark, told RNZ his company had always strived to operate within the law, and the rules and regulations of its industry.