A man prosecuted for flouting kauri dieback rules claims a female compliance officer who caught him entering a closed track was belligerent and her behaviour bordered on "vigilante action".
And it has emerged a trespass notice issued to the man warning he could be fined up to $1000 or face up to three months in prison had to be withdrawn after he pointed out several clerical errors.
Robert Armitstead, in his 60s, appeared in Waitākere District Court today for a judge-alone trial before Judge Lisa Tremewan.
It is the first prosecution of its kind and is being described as a precedent-setting case.
The court heard he was caught several times on an infrared bush camera walking on a closed track off Scenic Rd in Titirangi in breach of the restrictions.
He was also busted entering an access track that was off limits to prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease.
Auckland Council alleges Armitstead entered closed Waitākere Ranges Regional Park tracks three times over the course of five months in 2019.
He pleaded guilty this morning to one charge of breaching track closure restrictions, but denies two other charges laid under the council's Public Safety and Nuisance Bylaw.
The court heard Armitstead was first caught entering a closed track on May 14, 2019, when he was spotted by kauri dieback compliance officer Vanda Karolczak at Greenwoods Corner, off Scenic Rd in Titirangi.
Karolczak told the court she had just finished her shift at Arataki Visitor Centre and was driving home down Scenic Drive when she spotted two vehicles parked near an access track.
She stopped and photographed the two vehicles' licence plates, then noticed a man entering the track.
She called out but he didn't stop. When she called out again the man turned around and she recognised him as Armitstead, who she had known for about 15 years.
"He came towards me. I said, 'You can't be in there Bob - it's closed for kauri dieback. The sign's right here and you need to come out'."
Armitstead allegedly replied that he's spoken to council staff who'd assured him there were no kauri on this section of the track and the soil had not been tested.
"He said, 'So mate I'm going in'. He just turned and walked away. I was quite shocked."
Karolczak told the court a nearby sign at the entrance said:
"Stop, do not enter. Strictly no access.
"Any unauthorised person entering this closed area commits an offence.
"Penalties up to $20,000."
She returned to her car and took notes about the exchange before leaving. She reported the matter to her superior the following day.
Karolczak also told the court that on August 28 she and a colleague drove to Greenwoods Corner and entered the closed track to retrieve SD cards from two "Brownings" cameras.
The cameras take 20-second motion-activated video footage clips. They can use infrared to take footage at night, recording the date and time.
The pair returned to the Arataki Visitor Centre and viewed the footage.
As they watched a clip taken two days earlier on August 26, Karolczak's colleague said "is that Bob Armitstead?"
"I glanced at her screen and said, 'Yes it is'."
The pair found more footage of Armitstead breaching the track closures after reviewing the cameras in September, she said.
The footage was shown to the court.
Armitstead was issued with a trespass notice after the May incident. But he wrote back to the council challenging its validity and complaining about Karolczak.
Compliance team leader Jesse Hindt read from Armitstead's letter of complaint. It said the trespass notice had basic failings, including the wrong date.
Armitstead also alleged Karolczak had been "confrontational" and "belligerent" when she caught him entering the track.
He claimed she had hurtled round a corner and "skidded" into the car park in an unmarked car before "yelling at me in an aggressive manner", before recognising him as a fellow Piha surf lifesaver.
"It could easily be interpreted as vigilante action rather than an approach by a council officer," the letter said.
Hindt told the court that the trespass notice was later withdrawn due to inadequacies and a replacement sent out.
He also said he dealt with Karolczak's alleged behaviour and considered the matter closed.
Prosecutor Brandon Watts earlier told the court Armitstead had entered closed parts of park tracks on three occasions. The closures were put in place in 2018 to stop the spread of kauri dieback.
This morning Armitstead admitted breaching the rules on May 14, 2019 at Scenic Drive, Titirangi. But he disputes some of the alleged facts and denies breaching the track closure rules on August 26 and September 11, 2019.
If convicted, he could be fined up to $60,000.
The trial has been adjourned till next month with Armitstead is set to take the stand in his own defence.
Earlier this year, Auckland mayor Phil Goff said the prosecution reflected the "seriousness of the issue".
"While most Aucklanders understand the need for temporary track closures to help stop the spread of dieback, those individuals who flout the rules with no regard for the damage they cause need to be held to account."
In May 2018, Auckland Council closed high-risk tracks in the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park to the public to protect forested areas from the further spread of kauri dieback disease, after Auckland iwi Te Kawerau a Maki initiated the process by placing a rāhui, or ban, over the area.
The closure meant people entering those tracks could be prosecuted under the council bylaw.
The Waitākere Ranges Regional Park has become a hotspot for the tree-killing kauri dieback disease, with a 2018 survey showing it had spread to around 20 per cent of kauri in only a decade.
"The survival of our most iconic native tree is at risk and the decisions to close the tracks are based on hard evidence about what is necessary to slow and reverse the spread of kauri dieback disease," Goff said.
Several other prosecutions are now before the courts and council staff have also dished out dozens of trespass notices to bush-goers caught flouting the rules.