Search questioned at court martial

The search of a SAS soldier's room and barracks came under question at a pre-trial hearing before a court martial at Papakura Military Camp this morning.

The 29-year-old from the 1st NZ Special Air Services Regiment is facing charges in relation to theft of army property.

The soldier allegedly sent an email to the Serious Shooters gun shop on April 9 offering 29 military related items and saying he had more available, the hearing was told.

The email ended: "I intend on popping out to the shop today with this stuff and I have more. Would prefer private sale due to the nature of my work. All this stuff is legit."

The email was forwarded to a senior army officer who passed it on to the regiment commanding officer and military police.

A military police sergeant told how the soldier's barracks room, garage, vehicle and personal kit were searched at the Papakura base on April 29.

He said the soldier admitted having a firearm under his couch and a bag of needles in a drawer under the sink.

The M14 rifle was not a service firearm and the soldier said he had been planning to sell it, the sergeant said.

In the garage, 11 thunder flashes and a 200g block of Semtex explosive were found.

Defence lawyer Melinda Mason questioned why a written authority for the search was signed after it had taken place.

The authority also said there were reasonable grounds to suspect a firearm and drug items would be present, when there had been no such suspicion before the search.

The commanding officer said he signed the form on the understanding he was simply documenting his verbal authority, which was given before the search.

Ms Mason also questioned whether there were reasonable grounds to think the items identified in the email to Serious Shooters were Defence Force property.

The commanding officer said they were items used by the SAS and not generally used by the general public, and some had markings that indicated they may belong to the Defence Force.

Ms Mason asked whether he was aware that soldiers in Afghanistan, where the accused had served, were able to take items freely from a disposal bin on the US air base.

"I was not aware of that fact," he said.

Prosecutor Major Peter Brock said there were clear grounds for a search, and a verbal authority had been given appropriately by the commanding officer.

"He's got a number of things that clearly give reason to suspect. It's most unfortunate that the paperwork that followed this was a complete shambles."

Judge Christopher Hodson ruled the items found in the search could be produced in evidence.

"In my view a CO (Commanding Officer) on the information that he had, would have had little alternative but to authorise the search."

- by Heather McCracken of APNZ 


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