Elderly man charged after bomb scare

Whakatāne District Council offices were closed on Friday afternoon when a suspicious package was...
Whakatāne District Council offices were closed on Friday afternoon when a suspicious package was found. Beacon file photo
By Diane McCarthy, Local Democracy Reporter

A disgruntled ratepayer who police believe may be behind a bomb scare that saw Whakatāne District Council offices evacuated and closed for the afternoon on Friday has appeared in court.

A 70-year-old Ōhope man appeared in Whakatāne District Court on Tuesday on a charge of trespass in relation to the incident, which occurred on the final day for payment of quarterly rates.

Community experience general manager Georgina Fletcher said customer services staff were alerted by a member of the public to a suspicious package inside the main council building at about 1.45pm.

This triggered a procedure to evacuate the building and call the police.

Local Democracy Reporting understands the red suitcase was left at the entrance to the council chambers.

The incident was captured by security cameras. The accused man allegedly came into the council offices in the morning with a large quantity of coins that he dropped at the customer services counter, saying they were to go towards his rates, Local Democracy Reporting understands.

Whakatāne Police acting Senior Sergeant Roy Glaspey said police were called to the council building on Commerce Street at 1.50pm on Friday, after a suitcase was located inside the entrance.

The Auckland-based bomb squad were called and were on their way to Whakatāne but were stood down.

Mr Glaspey said the bomb squad was able to provide guidance to Whakatāne staff who examined the suitcase while the building was evacuated, and cordons were in place.

The suitcase was found to be empty. Police subsequently identified the man who had left the suitcase there.

No direct threats had been made by the person that left the case in the foyer of the building, Mr Glaspey said.

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However, he had previously been trespassed from the council building and charges were laid.

“As this is currently going through the court process, we are not able to comment further,” Mr Glaspey said.

“However, we do want to acknowledge the disruption that was caused to the local community and thank them for their patience and cooperation.”

The man made a first appearance in court yesterday on a charge of trespassing. He is next due in court on June 11.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of three months’ imprisonment or a $1000 fine.

Ms Fletcher said the council would conduct its own internal review of the incident.

“Staff and community safety is paramount; any event that disrupts council business and impacts staff wellbeing is taken extremely seriously.”

The incident resulted in the council extending its deadline for the fourth instalment of rates payments from Friday to Monday, as those wishing to pay at the offices on Friday afternoon were not able to.

- LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.