Cop's book relives Napier siege nightmare

By Roger Moroney -
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Lance Burdett replayed  his Napier siege experiences while writing his book. Photo / Greg Bowker.
Lance Burdett replayed his Napier siege experiences while writing his book. Photo / Greg Bowker.

The title of former police negotiator Lance Burdett's recently released book is very apt - Behind the Tape.

But being behind the tape and away from the centre of the attention, he is often as close as anyone could be to whomever is at the centre of the drama - as he was during the 2009 Napier stand-off between gunman Jan Molenaar and police, who set up massive cordons around his Chaucer Rd house.

It was a tragic and extraordinary event that still made him emotional when he thinks about it.

Molenaar had shot and killed Senior Constable Len Snee and seriously wounded his fellow officers Bruce Miller and Grant Diver. He also wounded civilian Lenny Holmwood, who had stepped in to try and disarm Molenaar.

The situation was tense, dangerous and unpredictable and Burdett, who had been involved in frontline negotiation roles since 1999, was called in as part of the team to deal with Molenaar.

He said the centre of focus was on ensuring no more lives were lost, and that included the life of the gunman.

"The one thing above all you need to possess in situations like that is empathy," Burdett said.

"To understand the situation they are in - it is to put yourself in their position and say 'I'm walking with you'."

Burdett said police had allowed "controlled" communication between Molenaar who, at the end of the first day of the siege was showing signs of tiredness, and his partner Delwyn Keef.

Molenaar had told Burdett that he did not want to hurt any more officers.

There was communication with Molenaar upon the hour. Burdett wanted to allow Molenaar to rest for a time, to freshen his mind a little and then try and go from there.

On the second day, he sensed Molenaar was intending to take his life, or make a move that would end up effectively as "suicide by cop".

Burdett said although Molenaar continued to fire shots from the house and would explode into bursts of rage and begin "ranting", there were also the moments when he would quieten down and there would be sorrow in his voice.

Burdett said he sensed how it was all going to end.

In hindsight, he thought about what else could have been done, of whether there should have been a different approach. But he accepted that at the time there was not.

"There was probably one more strategy, although we were not aware of it at that time - but I can't disclose it."He and his colleagues wanted to take Molenaar alive and there was a touch of self-questioning about how it had been handled."

But one of the tactical guys came up, saw I was struggling with it a bit, and said 'if we had tried to go through that door there would have been three more cops shot'."

The negotiating role, along with other stressful slices of senior police work, took a toll on Burdett and the book, with no holds barred, outlays the pressure of it all.

He sought and took mental health assistance when it all became overwhelming and burn-out edged into inevitable depression.

Nightmare situations resulted in nightmares. Writing the book, he said, was "tough going" because everything came back.

There were highly charged, emotional situations during the siege that he still cannot talk about without tears. Even though he went through it all on the frontline he still finds it tough to read or relate.

"These things never go away."

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