A Mongrel Mob gang member remains on the run from police after escaping from a court cell just after being sentenced to jail yesterday.

Police asked for public help to find Mana Justin Tangitutu, 27, who escaped from Whakatane District Court yesterday afternoon after being sentenced to prison.

Tangitutu, 27, had been sentenced to four months for assaulting a woman.

After being sentenced he was put in a court cell by police officers on court escort duty. While the officers dealt with another prisoner, Tangitutu escaped and managed to leave the court building.


The escape was discovered a few minutes later, about 5.15pm.

A police spokeswoman said Tangitutu was still on the run this morning.

After he escaped, cordons were put in place around Whakatane, his victim was contacted and arrangements made to ensure her safety.

Eastern Bay of Plenty police area commander Inspector Sandra Venables said there would be a full investigation into how Tangitutu escaped and and a review of court escort processes.

" ... our priority at this stage is locating him. I appeal to anyone who sees him or knows of his location to contact us immediately. It is of course possible that he will seek refuge with family or friends and I need to make it clear that anyone found to be assisting him in evading police could also face prosecution," Ms Venables said.

Tangitutu was described as Maori, about 180cm tall. He has gang affiliations and has a distinctive full facial tattoo with the word "Mongrel" above his upper lip and "MMM" on his forehead, which stands for Mighty Mongrel Mob.

He has links to the Gisborne, Whakatane, Tauranga and North Shore areas. He was also known to carry weapons should not be approached, police warned.

Any sightings should be reported immediately via the 111 system. Anyone else who has knowledge of where he is should contact the police or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.