For 32 years Hawke's Bay police have wanted to arrest Christopher Scarrott for theft. This week they threw in the towel and withdrew a warrant dating from 1982.
It was so long ago that the judge who granted their application to withdraw it remarked that the paperwork was so old it was nearly falling apart.
And the man himself, now 68, was unaware he had ever been charged with a crime, or that he was wanted.
Scarrott moved to Australia in 1981, but said he had visited New Zealand many times over the past three decades, and had never been pulled aside by Customs officials or told of the warrant.
His name was called among a short list in Napier District Court on Wednesday. Judge Anna-Marie Skellern granted the police application to cancel the warrant, and withdraw a charge of theft.
Scarrott, when contacted at his home in Australia, said he knew nothing about the warrant and, as far as he knew, he had a clean record.
"I don't know anything about that. I've never been charged with anything to my knowledge.
"This is very strange, isn't it. Sorry, mate, I can't help you."
His most recent visit was in February, when he came to see his parents in Taradale.
He worked as a salesman but had now retired and was "a nomad travelling around Australia".
Eastern district prosecution manager Senior Sergeant Dean Goodall said that, from time to time, an old warrant was found and in this case an inspector had made a decision not to pursue it.
"A decision is made on whether there is any public interest in keeping the prosecution alive. If the case warrants it, we do. There is no magic time either. It's done on a case-by-case basis."
A police spokesman said: "The systems in place for alerting border agencies back when the original warrant was issued in 1982 were very different than they are today.
"Most processes back then were paper-based and not computerised as they are now. It's therefore quite possible that border agencies at the time may not have been aware of the outstanding warrant."
A Customs Service spokeswoman said it was up to police to alert Customs if they wished a flag to be entered against someone's name.
She would not comment on individuals for privacy reasons.
Warrants to arrest are issued by courts for defendants who are charged with a criminal offence and do not appear in court.
Napier lawyer Phil Jensen said he never heard of such an old warrant being called in court.
"I do recall a time, particularly with drink-drivers, where people would scoot over to Australia and come back. They'd appear in court later and claim they couldn't be identified.
"That led to changes by police to ensure they could be identified.
"Nineteen-eighty-two is a long time in the system. I'm not sure how this chap could have come back to the country and not be picked up."
- The Dominion Post
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