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PAC: Ex-army gunman shooting at police in NZ siege

07 May 2009 5:23 PM
EDS: Adds details

WELLINGTON, May 7 NZPA - A 51-year-old former territorial army member is firing a high-powered rifle sporadically at New Zealand police officers who have surrounded his central Napier home.

The volleys of gunfire have also stymied attempts by police to retrieve the body of Senior Constable Len Snee from outside the gunman's house.

Eastern District Commander Superintendent Sam Hoyle admitted the man could stay holed up in his Chaucer Road house on Napier Hill for hours.

Snr Const Snee, 53, was killed about 9.30am on Thursday while conducting an apparent low-risk drug search operation in the city on the east coast of the North Island.

His body is still lying next to his police car outside the house.

Two other officers, Senior Constable Bruce Miller, 40, and Senior Constable Grant Diver, 50, were also shot and were in a serious but stable condition in hospital intensive care.

A civilian was also injured in the shooting. Supt Hoyle said it was not yet clear if he was an innocent passer-by or was somehow connected with the house.

The shooting began shortly after the police officers arrived at the address, Supt Hoyle told Radio NZ.

Snr Const Diver was able to crawl to a neighbouring house where he phoned the police station and the armed offenders squad came to his assistance.

Members of the public also came to the rescue of Snr Const Miller, Supt Hoyle said.

None of the officers conducting the drug search had been armed.

About 30 officers tonight had contained the man in his home, but he was still firing at them, he said.

Police were attempting to negotiate with him.

Supt Hoyle said the suspect was very determined and it would appear that he intended to hang in for the long haul.

"That means we could be here all night. While we have him well contained and have got everyone out around his address who is in any immediate danger, this could take many hours to resolve."

The suspect had a high-powered rifle that could shoot up to a kilometre away.

Police had also had reports that the man had many rounds of ammunition and access to a number of weapons and explosives.

"Which we are taking seriously even though it is as yet unconfirmed."

However, Supt Hoyle said the risk to others living on Napier Hill was "quite low".

Civil Defence have set up a centre for evacuated residents to stay in while the siege continued.

Supt Hoyle said the suspect was known to police, but only in a minor way.

"He was certainly not on our radar as a high risk offender. The job the police went to this morning was a very mundane low-level cannabis operation."

A woman who was in the house at the time of the shootings was able to leave the property and was assisting police in their inquiries, he said.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad told media today that police had been attempting to recover the body of the fallen officer from the scene without success.

"I understand a number of my officers have attempted to do so under direct fire from the house," he said.

"The fact we have got an officer we cannot get out from the situation, we cannot confirm finally that the man is dead is deeply distressing.

"He is in a position where we can say with reasonable certainty that he must be dead, but no one has been able to get there close to him and check that."

It's the fifth police killing in a decade in New Zealand. Snee was the 29th police officer to die on duty in New Zealand since the country's civil police force was set up more than 120 years ago.