Police defend gelignite response

Balclutha police are defending their decision to evacuate several blocks of the central business district during Thursday's explosives scare, against charges their actions cost some businesses half a day's trading.

Several blocks were cordoned off for nearly four hours after Puerua farmer Donald Lockhead delivered about 60 sticks of degraded gelignite and detonators to the Balclutha police station.

Sergeant Martin Bull, of Balclutha, said he did not believe shutting down several blocks, costing business inside the cordon half a day's trading, was an over-reaction.

Yvonne Murray, from ITM Fraser Building Centre, said she was not asked to leave the James St store on Thursday, despite it being diagonally across the James and Renfrew streets intersection from the police station, and directly across the road from Caltex.

Being inside the police cordon "affected our sales drastically", she said.

On a normal trading day, there were people in and out of the shop all day.

"I think we had four paying customers and four lookers," she said.

She believes the police had a "heap" of questions to answer over the incident, and there were "a lot of loose ends to the operation".

When asked to respond to Ms Murray's comment, Sgt Bull said he would not answer until Monday. He did not accept that police had over-reacted.

Gelignite itself was generally safe. If it was in good condition it needed a detonator to set it off.

But with age, it became soft and crystallised, and became unstable.

A bump could set it off, he said.

Mr Lockhead spoke to someone at the police station last week, but there was "a miss-communication" over what he thought he had, Sgt Bull said.

"Certainly, if we knew he had gelignite in that condition, he wouldn't have brought it in."

Once the condition of the gelignite was known, police called the army bomb-disposal unit, evacuated the station and set up cordons.

The bomb-disposal team was flown to Balclutha because they were the only ones with expertise in dealing with that sort of unstable gelignite, Sgt Bull said.

Police revealed yesterday Mr Lockhead had inherited the gelignite and detonators from his father, and had found them in a shed.

Inquiries were continuing in to why Mr Lockhead's father had the gelignite in the first place, Sgt Bull said.

He would not face any charges over the incident.

- rachel.taylor@odt.co.nz


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