Laws and regulations are important in maintaining an orderly and civilised society, but sometimes they need to be tempered with a little common sense.

The arrest and 36-hour imprisonment of 60-year-old former Whanganui parliamentary candidate Mark Middleton seems a sad case of too much blind obedience to the rulebook and not enough thought about the reality of the situation.

Mr Middleton, stepfather of 13-year-old Karla Cardno who was brutally murdered in 1989, was arrested on Tuesday as an overstayer, and now faces deportation.

This "overstayer" came to New Zealand from Britain as a four-year-old and hasn't been back since. He has lived, worked, paid taxes and helped raise a family in this country.

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To separate him from his family and send him back to a country he does not know seems inhumane.

Yes, he is living in NZ illegally — he is not a citizen and does not have a visa. And, yes, he was told about it some years ago and did nothing.

But police carting him away from his workplace and sticking him in a cell is a very heavy-handed way of addressing the issue.

"It was bloody cold for a couple of days, it's quite dehumanising actually," is how he described his incarceration.

Surely a less aggressive approach was called for — a phone call, an interview, a clear warning that he needed apply for residency or a visa or he could be deported.

What happend this week does not reflect well on either Immigration NZ or the police.

Following his ordeal, Mr Middleton has already had numerous calls of support — just as he did when he faced jail for threatening his daughter's killer — all expressing the hope he will be allowed to stay here.

That would seem to be the right solution.