Stewart proving elusive

09:45, Apr 26 2009

More than 60 days after fugitive William Stewart first went on the run, police have conceded they have no idea where he is.

The 47-year-old from Orari has gone to ground since being sighted last week in Darfield where he allegedly burgled a grocery store.

Stewart has been wanted by police since October on an outstanding warrant. They upped the ante on February 10 after a police chase. Stewart was close to being caught near the Rangitata River, but escaped after he allegedly threatened an officer with an iron bar.

Dozens of police failed to find him in the scrub and he has since gone on a crime spree.

Stewart has left notes for some of those he has stolen from, dubbing himself "Billy the Hunted One".

The Herald understands that at the beginning of April, Stewart was sighted in Otaio, where he was born.

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About the same time, a Waimate man was arrested for obstruction after he called police to Dunback. He had allegedly seen someone acting suspiciously in the area, 15km north west of Palmerston and identified the person as Stewart.

While police were satisfied Stewart was not there, an Otaio resident this week said they believed that he had been in the area, but did not wish to comment any further.

The man in charge of the hunt, Senior Sergeant Stewart Munro, said he did not have information at hand when asked to confirm the sighting, but added that Stewart had been all around the central South Island.

Police said Stewart has managed to keep one step ahead of them with the aid of stolen scanners.

Since his escape at Rangitata, he has been extremely resourceful, burgling farms and shops when he needs food or supplies and stealing cars whenever necessary, police said.

Police have warned the public not to approach him and believed he will use violence, including weapons, if he is cornered.

With police throughout Canterbury continuing to scour the countryside for Stewart after every sighting, his Timaru-based mother yesterday said the ordeal had been hard on her, as well as Stewart's father.

Police have reportedly been in touch with Stewart's parents but he has not approached them for help, The Timaru Herald understands.

Stewart's mother was reluctant to talk when approached by The Herald yesterday.

"It's been a difficult time for us," she said.

Yesterday, Mr Munro, said police were no closer to putting Stewart in handcuffs. He said he did not know if the man was even in Canterbury any more.

"We don't know where he is at the moment ... we haven't got a clue."

Mr Munro believes Stewart is in possession of two guns, a five-shot Beretta shotgun and a double barrel shotgun.

Stewart is still thought to be travelling in the stolen grey Toyota Hilux, with the registration ETU351.

The Timaru Herald