TV & Radio
When Senior Constable Paul Symonds found his colleague and friend Len Snee dead in Chaucer Rd he instinctively knew what his mate would have wanted.
"He would have said `I'm out of the play. Let's move on. You've got a bigger picture to sort out here'," says Mr Symonds.
Mr Snee was gunned down by Jan Molenaar on May 7, 2009. The murder sparked the 50-hour Napier siege, which ended when Molenaar turned the gun on himself, his house surrounded by heavily armed police.
Now a new TV movie, Siege, which screens tomorrow night, recounts the bravery and heartbreak involved. Many of the officers involved in the armed standoff helped on the project.
Mr Symonds says the movie is "a pretty good general reflection" of events, although it includes some artistic licence.
A documentary interviewing officers and civilians involved, Siege: The Real Story, screens on Tuesday. The doco, says Mr Symonds, is the reality check.
"It's very emotional, hard-hitting and to the point. It's good that it comes after the movie so everyone will be able to see how the event affected everyone involved."
On that day in May, Mr Snee and fellow senior constables Grant Diver and Bruce Miller were making a routine search of Molenaar's house when the 51-year-old drug dealer snapped.
Mr Snee was killed instantly. Mr Diver and Mr Miller were badly injured but were able to crawl away.
Molenaar's friend, Lenny Holmwood, who had arrived at the house during the search, had struggled with Molenaar to prevent him firing on the injured officers again and was also badly injured.
Minutes later Mr Symonds and senior constables Mike Burne and Dennis Hurworth arrived at the top of the steep street in Napier Hill.
"We ran down the hill, saw Bruce, who was lucid. He said he'd been shot. [Civilians] Garry [Fraser] and Christine [Jackman] were with him so we felt comfortable leaving him with them. We went down further to find out what was happening.
"We found Len lying on the road. I checked his vitals and at that point realised he was dead. While I did that Dennis and Mike covered me because it was out in the open".
Mr Snee and Mr Symonds had been mates for more than 20 years.
They joined the force in the same section in Napier in 1988 and had both been members of the armed offenders squad since 1994.
Mr Snee was an exceptional member of the squad, someone the others looked up to, Mr Symonds says.
"Len was a great teacher. He would have said `I'm out of the play. Let's move on. You've got a bigger picture to sort out here'," Mr Symonds says.
The officers knew Mr Diver was injured somewhere and they knew the gunman could be anywhere. They had no idea what kind of weapon or weapons he was armed with.
"Then we noticed Len Holmwood further down the street. He said he'd been shot. [Officers] Brad Clark and Paul Buckley came up from below. I was the senior officer at that point. I told them to take him away," Mr Symonds says.
"Then Delwyn Keefe [Molenaar's partner] appeared on the balcony. Mike and I spoke to her and told her we needed to find Grant."
Ms Keefe, who had been at the house throughout the shooting, told them she thought Mr Diver could be at the back of the house.
The priority then became finding Mr Diver. Mr Symonds reached over the gate to unhook the latch while Mr Burne and Mr Hurworth covered him from the road.
"Sometimes you've just got to take a risk. We were probably scared, but we knew we had to just get on with it," Mr Symonds says.
Then all hell broke loose, as Molenaar opened fire with a machine gun.
"He would have been just three or four metres away. Rounds were flying over my head, right across the road between Mike and Dennis. A splinter from the gate hit me in the face.
"We were thinking `what the hell is this'. It was a horrendous noise. When you stand behind a gun and fire it it has a certain sound to it, but when you're standing in front of it it's completely different," he says.
"I'm in no doubt he was trying to kill us. If he'd hit us with that calibre gun we'd definitely have been dead. This was an elephant gun. Fully automatic.
"We gathered our thoughts then whipped over to a wooden fence and started trying to figure out where it was coming from. The next minute he opened up again with bullets coming through the fence above our heads. We're talking about a burst of about 20 rounds," he says.
"We backed off then. That's when we realised what we'd got ourselves into."
They went back up the road to where Mr Miller and the others had been. They'd been evacuated. Mr Symonds sent Mr Burne across the road into the cemetery, which is higher than the road, to keep an eye on Molenaar's house.
Detective Dean Young made his way down the road and started to check houses for Mr Diver.
He found the badly injured officer in the first house he checked and gave him the urgent medical attention that helped save his life.
Other officers and a paramedic arrived and Mr Diver was taken to safety while Mr Symonds and Mr Burne stayed put until reinforcements arrived.
At some stage, Mr Symonds can't recall exactly when, Ms Keefe came out of the house and walked up the road.
From that point on Molenaar remained in his "fortress" and fired at will.
"The one good thing was we knew where he was. We had him pinned. The outcome was only going to be one of two things. He was going to come out fighting or do something to himself, which of course he did.
"He was just shooting randomly at anyone and everyone. There were a lot of close calls.
"I'm not sure people know how many there were. There could have been anything up to seven people killed that day easily," Mr Symonds says.
"Later on three of us were in the house next door. We wanted to put tear gas into [Molenaar's] house but the fence between us and Molenaar's house was just too high. We tried firing a cannister through the fence, but of course it hit it, so Molenaar knew exactly where we were.
"The next minute, boom. The whole room was just full of lead. The TV set was shot up, the walls were messed up."
Mr Symonds spoke about events with his wife and some time later took her to Chaucer Rd to show her the house and describe what occurred.
"She struggled for weeks after that. She knew it had been close, but not how close. It was like standing in front of a firing squad and they missed. It was hard to believe. We still can't believe it," he says.
There were numerous similar close calls with shots fired on officers in the cemetery and at the bush at the rear of Molenaar's property.
Mr Symonds says the siege is still a "very raw" memory and he hopes the TV projects will help those involved.
"Time is a great healer. I know we will never forget Len Snee, and we shouldn't. He was a great man. For the facts to come out is a positive thing.
"We can get it done and move on, whereas if it was 10 years down the track it would regurgitate all over again and memories may not be as clear.
"It's history and people need to know what happened up there. There were a lot of people that did brave things that day. Napier can pat itself on the back ..."
Funded by $2.6 million from New Zealand On Air, Siege is a two-hour television movie recreating Jan Molenaar's 50-hour standoff with the police, and filmed in the actual house.
The film's genesis was an approach from the police to production company Screentime, which makes the Police Ten 7 programme.
Screentime managing director Philly de Lacey concedes it was "weird" filming in Molenaar's house, where the siege began and ended when he shot himself in a bedroom. Production staff said a karakia before filming began.
Those involved in the siege were initially reluctant to get involved in the movie, but over time they chose to help to ensure it was an accurate portrayal.
Grant Diver allowed his police dog, Fi – initially feared shot by Molenaar, but, in fact, left locked in a police van at the scene for 37 hours – to appear in scenes.
"We had an interesting night after we cast the film when we got all the officers to come in and meet the actors playing them.
"That really brought it home to the actors that they were representing someone who is still around. You just have to talk to those guys [the officers] for five minutes to see the impact the siege has had on them and on their lives," she says.
About 20 officers were involved in various ways.
"Some just sat down with our writer, John Bannister, and would give their account of the day. We met with STG [the police special tactics group] and had them walk us through their involvement in it.
"I'm really proud of it. I think everyone who got involved with it took it really seriously and decided, `This is a big responsibility and we want to do it right'."
Screentime also produced the follow-up documentary, Siege: The Real Story, which interviews the actual police officers and civilians involved.
Siege screens on TVOne at 8.30pm tomorrow
The documentary, Siege: The Real Story, screens at 9.30pm on Tuesday on TVOne
- © Fairfax NZ News
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