New Zealand Defence Force rules out national investigation into missing weapon parts

Weapon parts have gone missing on several occasions from Base Woodbourne in Marlborough, an inquiry found. (File photo)
RICKY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Weapon parts have gone missing on several occasions from Base Woodbourne in Marlborough, an inquiry found. (File photo)

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 commissioned a stocktake of weapons at all New Zealand armouries between February and March, a Defence Force spokesman said.

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

Murray John Smith, 58, was charged with theft by a person in a special relationship and a charge of unlawfully ...
FAIRFAX NZ

Murray John Smith, 58, was charged with theft by a person in a special relationship and a charge of unlawfully possessing a pistol. (File photo)

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."

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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.

SWEPT UNDER THE CARPET

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.

Some gun parts were supposed to be destroyed by Smith and his predecessors, but were instead kept at the armoury with some dating back to World War I.

Squadron leader David Henderson said during Smith's trial he was not disappointed the armoury technicians went to the police instead of the military police.

There were "systemic issues" to be addressed in the military, he 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.

 - The Marlborough Express

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