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After four days of close encounters, break-ins and red herrings, increasingly frustrated police are hoping the hunt for fugitive Stephen Uriah Maddren is nearing its end. Vaughan Elder reports.
It's been a week from hell for police and the Department of Corrections.
It started on Tuesday afternoon when an un-handcuffed Stephen Uriah Maddren is believed to have climbed up a downpipe on to a roof at the Otago Corrections Facility at Milburn and jumped from a height of two or three storeys.
The search throughout South Otago initially involved about 40 Corrections staff and has since involved about a dozen police.
They came closest to catching Maddren on the night of his escape, when he was seen by a Corrections staff member near the prison about 6.30pm.
The Otago Daily Times has been told the staff member was distracted by the lights of an oncoming car and Maddren escaped into the night.
It is understood the car in question was an ODT vehicle.
Initial fears for Maddren's health in the freezing conditions eased after a comprehensive search close to the prison on Wednesday evening.
The evidence so far suggests he has remained in the area near the prison, with resident Nicole Acklin reporting hearing footsteps on the roof above her kitchen on Thursday morning.
Maddren is then thought to be responsible for two break-ins early yesterday - escaping with milk and food from one of the houses.
Clutha-Taieri area response manager Senior Sergeant Al Dickie said the search was becoming increasingly frustrating as the week went on.
''Everyone's looking for a result, but it's not that easy,'' Snr Sgt Dickie said.
''It seems this guy is mobile at night and under the cover of darkness it makes it even harder.''
Asked how Maddren had eluded such a large-scale search, which included police dogs, he said: ''That's a good question. We are just wondering whether he has got a bike or something to avoid [leaving tracks for the dogs].''
Snr Sgt Dickie said the long hours of the search were tiring, but not unusual, for a police officer.
''You have got to expect it in this job.''
He did not believe too few resources had been allocated to the search.
''We have got other things we have got to attend to as well, and we have allocated what we think are the right amount of resources for the job.''
The search could take some time yet, but everyone was hoping for a return to normality soon.
''We want to get on with life and move on to other things. We have got other responsibilities, not just this guy.''
Maddren is Caucasian, 171cm tall, and has a brown or black mullet-type hairstyle and no teeth. He was last seen wearing green track pants and a green top.
Although police did not consider him a danger to the public, people should not approach him but instead call police on 111 if he is sighted.
Anyone with information on his whereabouts should call the Dunedin police on (03) 471-4800. Information can be provided anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555-111.