Here, Rochelle Ree, 31, tells the story in her own words.
It’s rabbit stew for dinner,’ my grandmother Beverley said.
Aged four, I loved visiting her and my grandfather, John, and their animals. To me, the rabbits, pigs, cows and chickens were my friends. But now we were having them for dinner! ‘What do you mean?’ I asked, alarmed.
When she explained how meat came from animals, I was so upset.
Vowing to become a vegetarian, when I was older my mum, Nikki, 55, let me. But it didn’t feel like enough. The thought of any animals suffering broke my heart. So when I was 13, I joined Auckland Animal Action group. I want to make a real difference, I decided, attending protests and meetings.
That’s where I first met Rob, a fellow activist. He was 31 and already a trusted figure within the group. Some of the things we did, such as chaining ourselves to gates, caused disruption.
For that reason, we were sometimes infiltrated by people who then leaked our plans to the authorities. I remember Rob calling out people he suspected of being informants.
Towards the end of 2007 when I was 21, I bumped into Rob in the street in Auckland. By then he was living in Christchurch and we hadn’t seen each other for a while. Meeting up that evening, I felt a spark between us. From there, things moved along quickly.
When I left my computer programming job in Auckland, I moved in with Rob in Christchurch. We told each other everything, and I introduced him to my family. Still both involved in activism, we joined in everything we could.
Then, a conference came up in Auckland. Money was tight, so I didn’t think we could make it. But Rob was oddly insistent. Then, he told me another activist was going to pay for us to attend. That’s funny, I thought. I’d spoken to that person earlier that day, and they’d never mentioned it. For a fleeting moment an awful thought crossed my mind. Was Rob an informant?
Don’t be paranoid, I told myself, feeling stupid. Of course Rob would never betray me, or our group.
After a year of living together, I moved back to Auckland for a job, but we remained a couple. During a weekend when I was at Rob’s, he had trouble with his laptop. ‘Could you take a look?’ he asked me. It turned out to be a big job, so I took his laptop back to my place to do it during the week.
Sitting at home one night, I finished the task. But when I checked emails to make sure they’d work with the new software, some of them had blank subjects and sender info. I saw they were newsletters and updates from activist groups. Rob had forwarded them to someone unknown. Alarm bells rang and my heart sank. Was he passing on information to the authorities? Who is he? Is my relationship even real? I wondered, stunned.
In a panic, I asked my friend Jasmine, then 22, to come over. Together, we did some more digging. We found reports containing information about members of our group, our actions – and about me. It included how we related to each other and who was close to who. My partner is spying on me, I realised, horrified. My mind raced.
Fighting the urge to call Rob and confront him, I tried to think strategically. Pushing my feelings aside, I’d have to stay calm if I wanted the truth. Spy on him, like he’s spied on you, I thought.
Contacting Nicky, a journalist I knew, he agreed to help me investigate. And, thanks to my job, I knew how to track Rob’s movements digitally on his computer and his phone. Every email and every call or text he sent would be copied to me. The plan was that when we had enough evidence, Nicky would confront Rob and then write a story.
My next problem was acting normal around Rob. Thank God we aren’t living together, I thought. But we were due to go to my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Somehow, I gritted my teeth, smiling and pretending everything was fine. It’ll be worth it to know the truth, I thought.
Finally, six weeks later, we had what we needed. He’d made calls to people listed in his phone as ‘uncle’, but when we checked the numbers, they were for police officers. It turned out Rob was working for NZ Police and had been spying on the group for almost 10 years.
Our entire relationship had been a lie! How could he be allowed to do this? What if I’d married him, I thought, feeling sick. Or we’d had kids? I couldn’t believe how far they’d gone for information. We aren’t terrorists, I thought. How can he be allowed to invade my personal life like that?
After Nicky confronted Rob, he called me and said he wanted to stay together! But there was no way. ‘It’s over,’ I told him.
After that, all the emotions I’d buried hit me. It made me question everything – how could I trust again?
Thankfully, my family and friends surrounded me with love.
Ten years on, I’ve been with my incredible partner for a while. In time, I learned to trust again, but I’ve never been the same. I’m speaking out because this should never happen to anyone else. Rob’s double life could have destroyed mine.
Read more in this week's issue of that's life!