No sinister old man in white van - police

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2012

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There never was a "white van man" trying to snatch Invercargill children from the streets.

Yesterday, police confirmed two reports of an elderly man attempting to abduct two 17-year-old girls - which sparked alarm among city parents - turned out to be baseless.

On November 15, a girl was approached by an elderly man driving a white van while walking along Layard St near James Hargest College. She ran away.

Detective Scott Mackenzie said police had now spoken to the man, who had said he was offering the girl a lift because it was raining.

"[We] are satisfied there was no offence committed," he said. "The man accepts that in hindsight the offer could have caused the student some concern."

A second incident, alleged to have taken place on December 2, was revealed as a hoax earlier this week after the 17-year-old girl who said she had been grabbed by a man with silver-grey hair in a white van admitted making it up.

Police took the reports seriously, warning schools about stranger danger and asking for the public to be vigilant.

However, there were some reports of vigilante behaviour.

Ray Murray, an innocent man who happened to be driving past Fernworth Primary School in a white van, was verbally abused and then followed by a woman who believed he was the man police were looking for.

Southland area commander Inspector Lane Todd said he felt the police and media response was proportionate.

"Anything that gets reported to us of that nature we have to treat very seriously. The danger is if we treat it low-key and it's a real situation . . ."

The positive was that nothing sinister had happened.

Mr Todd said most of the public behaved responsibly, with many calls to the police, and the reaction of the schools had been excellent.

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- The Southland Times

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