Gang kingpin exposed as medals broker (+video)

By Patrick Gower, Tony Stickley

A leading gang figure was released from jail after negotiating the return of New Zealand's stolen war medals.

The Herald can reveal Daniel Crichton was granted bail on serious drugs charges after acting as the "conduit" with the thieves of the 96 medals.

His release is another part of the deal that saw the thieves paid an undisclosed amount of the $300,000 reward.

Crichton is a former Black Power member now linked to the feared Headhunters gang.

He was being held in Mt Eden Prison after being charged as part of an alleged drugs ring uncovered by a police bugging operation.

Crichton made an informal approach about the medals at the time of a depositions hearing at the Manukau District Court last month at which he was represented by Chris Comeskey.

Crichton, who was in custody at the time of the December 2 Waiouru break-in, was asked for proof, and "in a dramatic show of good faith" he arranged the return of a George Cross.

After negotiations with the Crown and police, Crichton was released on bail on January 21 in a decision the Herald has been told was "allied to the medals".

The remaining medals were returned on Friday.

Crichton and others still face trial on the drugs charges.

Amanda Upham, daughter of Charles Upham whose VC and Bar were among the stolen medals, last night described the deal with Crichton as "disgraceful".

"This deal is becoming more farcical by the day. We can just be happy we got the medals back," she said.

Mr Comeskey has taken credit for brokering the deal, but refused to comment when asked about Crichton's involvement and subsequent release last night.

He would only say discussing Crichton's involvement was "not helpful".

Crichton was seen in downtown Auckland yesterday with a senior member of the Headhunters. He could not be reached for comment last night.

The officer leading the hunt for the thieves, Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Bensemann, also refused to comment.

Crichton, who has a full facial tattoo, is well known in Auckland's criminal underworld.

The Herald has been told he was an influential figure among the other prisoners at Mt Eden, who, since his release, have been openly discussing his role in returning the medals.

The return of the medals has also been linked to an attack on well-known New Zealand criminal Arthur William Taylor - another client of Mr Comeskey's - inside Paremoremo Prison this week.

Friends of Taylor did not return calls last night to discuss what role, if any, he has played.

The medals stolen included nine Victoria Crosses, as well as two rare George Crosses, an Albert Medal and a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Mr Upham's VC and Bar was the only one awarded to a combat soldier.

Police say the return of the medals does not mean there will be immunity from prosecution.

* CHARGES DROPPED FOR RETURN OF STOLEN GOLDIE

The return of the medals has similarities with a case last year where an accused criminal held police to ransom over the return of treasured New Zealand artefacts, including a priceless Charles Goldie artwork.

Police arranged for minor charges to be dropped against the man in exchange for the return of the 1920s painting Planning Revenge, a copy of the Oxford Lectern Bible and a set of seven Colin McCahon poems stolen from the University of Auckland.

The artefacts were valued at $207,000 but considered irreplaceable. They were stolen from the university library during the 2005 Christmas holidays.

The exchange was made in October - about six weeks before the break-in at the Waiouru Army museum. Details of the exchange were suppressed to protect the man's identity during the Auckland District Court hearing last year. Details of charges he faced were also suppressed.

It was similar to the medals case because the negotiation included "a show of good faith" when the man returned the Oxford Lectern Bible.

The man was not involved in the theft but had learned who had taken the items and where they were. He said police would never find them. He then raised dropping the charges he faced as a deal police eventually agreed to.

A further similarity was that a privately funded reward of up to $20,000 was put up by the painting's London insurers through investigators GAB Robins. A spokesman for GAB Robins would not say yesterday whether this was paid out.

The officer leading the medals hunt, Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Bensemann, told the Herald he was aware of possible links with the Goldie case but would not comment further.

- NZ Herald

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