Man charged over false rescue team claims

An Australian Federal Officer guards a road cordon in Christchurch on Sunday. Photo / Greg Bowker
An Australian Federal Officer guards a road cordon in Christchurch on Sunday. Photo / Greg Bowker

A West Coast man who went to earthquake-hit Christchurch and joined the urban search and rescue effort there has been remanded in custody for a month after being charged with falsely representing himself as a rescue team member.

Police were concerned that the man's lack of training or credentials could put members of the public and other search and rescue staff at risk, Christchurch Court News website reported.

They were also concerned when weapons were found in his car, and charged Jason Henry Bevington with falsely representing himself as a rescue team member, and possession of offensive weapons - knives, a baton, and an axe.

At a sitting in the Christchurch Central Police Station watchhouse, Judge David Saunders remanded Bevington in custody to March 28 when his "personal situation may be given greater weight".

Duty solicitor Elizabeth Bulger said Bevington had been helping the Urban Search and Rescue team for the last few days.

He said he came from the West Coast to volunteer but inquiries were made as a result of some concern about his credentials. "He has provided information to the police which has been checked and found to be incorrect," said Miss Bulger.

If granted bail, he would return to live at Blackball, but police opposed any release on bail.

Prosecutor Sergeant Dave Murray said Bevington turned up last Tuesday and his claims were taken at face value at the time, but concerns were raised by the people he was working alongside.

"He has made a considerable number of claims about his background and his work at Pike River. The officer in charge has made considerable inquiries with staff from that location, and while the defendant has worked there as an electrician, he has not worked underground, nor in any rescue work, and has not been trained in that kind of work," said Mr Murray.

The weapons found in his vehicle also caused concern. His car had an Urban Search and Rescue logo on the side. "Any person who is going to be doing that kind of thing is of concern to us," Mr Murray said.

Questioned by the judge, Bevington explained that he was already on charges relating to a visit to Christchurch in November when he took his car for a warrant of fitness test and his rifle accidentally discharged while he was trying to unload it. He had forgotten it was in the car. He was charged with carrying a firearm and recklessly firing it.

He said he had not thought about the knives in his car on this trip. He was a collector.

Judge Saunders said: "These are extraordinary times in Christchurch. There is a need for absolute faith and trust that persons working in the disciplined forces are who they represent themselves to be."

Remanding Bevington in custody, he said: "There must be a clear message that those who misrepresent themselves in these times cannot expect to be at liberty."

- NZPA

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