By Rob Kidd
When 28 firearms and more than 22,000 rounds of ammunition were stolen from a Dunedin home, police knew they had to act fast.
Guns equal gangs.
Even typically reserved and factual court documents revealed the ripples the October 25 burglary of the Maitland St address had caused among the underworld.
Media reports about the incident created "a great deal of interest within the local criminal fraternity," one report read.
And it was only days before the first gang members converged on Dunedin.
Officer in charge of the case Detective Sergeant Dave Nelson confirmed to the Otago Daily Times the Hells Angels arrived from the North Island on October 30.
They evaded the grasp of officers and presumably left with part of the weapons cache.
But police were closing in, working 20-hour days at times to make inroads.
"Really, a lot of it was old-fashioned leg work. Making inquiries, interviews, search warrants," Det Sgt Nelson said.
There were no futuristic forensic techniques.
When the breakthrough came it was from simply tracing back who had access to the home of the Dunedin Pistol Club member.
"We started with a name," he said.
The ODT understands that person was a prostitute and she had been working at the property the day before the burglary.
"We believed there was inside knowledge," Det Sgt Nelson said.
The woman was the girlfriend of 40-year-old Scott Trotter. He became the focus of the investigation.
At his sentencing before the Dunedin District Court last week, when he was jailed for four years five months, Judge Michael Crosbie outlined how Trotter and Raymond Mosley, 39, had gone to the house posing as glaziers.
They got in by removing a glass panel and found two safes in separate bedrooms.
Despite the firearms owner initially telling police the weapons had been secured, it soon became obvious to those investigating that the safes were unlocked when the burglars entered.
During the sentencing, Trotter interrupted the judge to stress he was not a gang member. But police summaries made his links to organised crime clear.
One gang may have slipped in and out of Dunedin, but police were prepared for the next wave.
On November 7, Trotter contacted a senior member of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club to garner interest in the stolen arsenal. Their response was instant.
Patched Bandido Michael Burnard, 56, immediately booked a ticket for his superior, senior member William Clouston, 63, to fly from Wellington to Dunedin that day.
Trotter took him to a Canongate house where he perused the cache and selected what he would buy.
Clouston chose three military-style, semi-automatic rifles.
Their names sound as benign as car registration plates - CRJ AR15 and DPMS A15 - but enter them online and there is no end to the videos of Americans showing their potential for devastation, blasting off dozens of rounds in seconds.
Clouston also chose a Smith and Wesson 500 .50 calibre revolver and 2400 rounds of ammunition.
Bought legitimately, the array would have cost more than $10,000 but police do not know how much was paid in this black-market deal.
The next day, Burnard and another patched Bandido from Auckland, Grant Latimer, 58, arrived in town.
On November 9, they took Clouston back to the airport to fly home, before heading to the Canongate address for the pick-up.
The pair loaded the goods into their black Peugeot station wagon and travelled to a Waitati home. They told the person living there they wanted to store something but did not tell them what.
Crucially, Latimer kept the revolver in the car, rather than leaving it with the assault rifles.
When he and Burnard were heading back north that evening, police were waiting in Waikouaiti. They signalled for the car to pull over.
Latimer attempted to evade them but was eventually blocked in by a second police car.
When officers swarmed the vehicle, they found the pistol in the back, tying the men to the rest of the haul in Waitati, where a search warrant was later carried out.
He entry of the Bandidos, in fact, resulted in search warrants being executed in Auckland, Christchurch and Gore as police tried to stem the flow.
There was a clear connection between weapons and methamphetamine, Det Sgt Nelson said.
While the wave of havoc that P inflicted on communities had not reached Dunedin, he said there was always going to be a link between class-A drugs, firearms and organised criminal groups.
"It's paranoia about methamphetamine and getting ripped off," Det Sgt Nelson said.
The sudden flood of guns in Dunedin's illicit marketplace provided local drug dealer 37-year-old Melissa Addison with a chance to diversify her business.
She entered the fray when she sold a quarter of a gram of methamphetamine for a handgun.
It was a Ruger Mk11 22 handgun. Addison went to Christchurch where she sold it for $2000.
Her presence in the city caused a buzz as word got around about her access to the firearms stash.
Before heading back to Dunedin, she was provided with 3g of methamphetamine to swap for firearms, which she was to take back to Christchurch.
It is not known which of the firearms she trafficked or whether they ended up going north.
Police do know that between November 19 and 22 she took the remaining semi-automatic rifle to Christchurch.
It was recovered by police a week later and she was arrested.
There are 21 pistols, a shotgun and 22,600 rounds of ammunition still unaccounted for.
Det Sgt Nelson said that although they had almost certainly been distributed outside Dunedin, the Operation Maitland file was not closed.
They welcomed any further information from the public.
There was no pressure from superiors during the six-week investigation, he said, only encouragement.
"It's more personal pride to do the best job you can," Det Sgt Nelson said.
"We knew there was a lot of public interest. There was a fear of those firearms being used against the public or one of our own."
CIB head Detective Senior Sergeant Rob Hanna paid tribute to the team involved.
The fact all seven defendants involved had pleaded guilty was testament to the weight of evidence gathered by Det Sgt Nelson and those on the ground.
But Det Snr Sgt Hanna said the entire fiasco might have been avoided had the firearms been locked away, as they legally should have been.
It was, therefore, a timely reminder to those with firearms of their obligations.
"It's a huge responsibility being in possession of firearms and we encourage people to abide by the rules and regulations," he said.
● Neither the Dunedin Pistol Club nor the member who was burgled have responded to requests for interviews. No charges were laid against the gun owner.