Mil­i­tary ig­nores ad­vice to in­ves­ti­gate gun part thefts

Marlborough Express - - NEWS - JEN­NIFER EDER

A mil­i­tary in­quiry into weapons stolen from an air force base has rec­om­mended a na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but the mil­i­tary has de­cided not to take its own ad­vice.

Flight sergeant Mur­ray John Smith was caught steal­ing weapon parts from the ar­moury at Base Wood­bourne, Marl­bor­ough, in Fe­bru­ary last year.

His co­work­ers went to the po­lice who took Smith to court, but the mil­i­tary launched its own in­ter­nal in­quiry as well.

The mil­i­tary also or­dered a stock­take of weapons at all New Zealand ar­mouries be­tween Fe­bru­ary and March, a De­fence Force spokesman said.

Apart from ‘‘mi­nor stock­tak­ing and record-keep­ing er­rors’’, weapons and weapons ac­ces­sories were ‘‘prop­erly ac­counted for and se­curely held’’, the spokesman said.

Fol­low­ing the stock­take, ob­so­lete or ‘‘not-on-charge’’ gun parts were re­moved from all ar­mouries in April last year, he said.

De­spite the stock­take and re­moval of ob­so­lete parts, the mil­i­tary Court of In­quiry said in its re­port on Smith, there should be a na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether weapon parts had dis­ap­peared from other ar­mouries in the past.

‘‘The ev­i­dence shows that there were in­stances of unau­tho­rised re­moval of weapons from the Wood­bourne Base ar­moury in ad­di­tion to that which oc­curred on Fe­bru­ary 10, 2016,’’ the Court of In­quiry wrote in Au­gust.

‘‘There has been no in­ves­ti­ga­tion yet as to whether sim­i­lar in­stances have oc­curred at RNZAF bases Auck­land and Ohakea. How­ever, the pres­ence of not-on-charge weapons parts at all three ar­mouries makes this a pos­si­bil­ity.’’

Af­ter sev­eral re­quests over six weeks, the mil­i­tary re­vealed there was not go­ing to be a wider in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The As­sem­bling Author­ity, who or­dered the in­quiry, de­cided there were ‘‘no grounds’’ for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter the re­moval of ob­so­lete gun parts and the stock­take, the spokesman said.

Smith pleaded guilty to the theft charges and was sen­tenced to 200 hours’ com­mu­nity work in March this year. He was fired by the mil­i­tary a few weeks later.

Smith’s co­work­ers went to the po­lice af­ter they saw him take ob­so­lete Brown­ing pis­tol parts from the ar­moury he was in charge of in Fe­bru­ary last year.

His co­work­ers told the court they went to po­lice be­cause they did not think their su­pe­ri­ors would take ac­tion, hav­ing re­ported thefts be­fore that were ‘‘swept un­der the car­pet’’.

The year be­fore, Smith took ob­so­lete Ster­ling sub­ma­chine gun parts from the ar­moury, pho­to­copy­ing the gun’s main­te­nance man­ual and turn­ing up while off-duty to col­lect parts on one oc­ca­sion, the in­quiry re­vealed.

Ri­fle parts also dis­ap­peared be­tween 2013 and 2014, and it was pos­si­ble there were other thefts be­fore that, its re­port said.

Se­nior po­lice ar­mourer Robert Ng­amoki said as an ex­pert wit­ness the stolen parts could have been rebuilt into work­ing pis­tols with some im­pro­vi­sa­tion.

Po­lice were in­creas­ingly find­ing peo­ple who il­le­gally ac­quired parts such as bar­rels and slides, and cre­at­ing im­i­ta­tion frames to build their own firearms, he said.

RICKY WIL­SON/FAIR­FAX NZ

Base Wood­bourne, west of Blenheim.

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