Military-style weapons have been found at the home of a man who blinded Interisland ferry crew members with a laser beam - and politicians want to know why he is out on bail.
Bernard Westbrook Long, 69, has pleaded guilty to charges of endangering public safety after aiming the military-grade laser at shipping, including Interislander ferries, from his isolated home in the Marlborough Sounds. He has also admitted to careless use of a firearm.
When the Armed Offenders Squad raided his house on Arapawa Island, they discovered an arsenal of up to 30 guns, including sniper rifles, 17 pistols, a variety of other rifles and pump-action shotguns and a number of loaded magazines.
There were also what police described as black powder "blunderbuss" type guns and several military-style semi-automatic weapons - one of which was a Norinco AK47 replica, the same model used by David Gray in his notorious rampage at Aramoana in 1990.
Long admitted the charges in Blen-heim District Court this week and has been remanded on bail until June 24 for a summary reading of charges and sentencing date.
That has outraged some politicians, including Nelson MP Nick Smith.
"This sort of conduct is incredibly worrying in a case which has a sinister tone to it. It seems remarkable that people can get bail with this sort of deliberate act which puts public safety at risk."
Smith said it reinforced the National Party's concern about changes to bail laws. "Three years ago Labour changed the bail laws to reduce pressure on prisons and the judiciary have reacted accordingly."
ACT leader Rodney Hide was also alarmed Long was out on bail. "You have to wonder what you would have to do not to get bail. Here is a guy who has put a large number of individual lives at risk. He has admitted it and is still wandering around."
Acting Minister of Justice Rick Barker said awarding bail was a judicial decision and he could not comment directly on the case.
"The judge is best placed to make these decisions as they have all the facts in front of them, not political lobbyists or opposition spokespeople. The Bail Amendment Act 2007 makes Parliament's view clear that community safety should be the paramount concern in making bail decisions."
Senior constable Paul McKenzie from Picton police said Long's actions in shining the laser into the eyes of ferry crews in Tory Channel had been "potentially very dangerous". "At times those ferries are only 30 seconds from grounding and they are carrying a lot of passengers," said McKenzie. "What he was doing was foolhardy."
From his home in Te Iro Bay, Long told the Herald on Sunday he had been advised not to speak by his lawyer. "I don't know what the police have told you, but obviously it goes a little bit deeper," he said. "There is obviously more to it ... but I would be foolish not to take the advice I have been given."
McKenzie said police received numerous complaints last September from crew on vessels run by Interislander and other companies and from skippers of fishing boats who had been "blinded" by a green laser aimed from the shore.
After three complaints on the night of October 12, police took action. Using their GPS system the ferry crew traced the laser to Te Iro Bay, where McKenzie said he knew of only one resident - Bernard Long. The Armed Offenders Squad went in before dawn and arrested Long and confiscated his arsenal.
McKenzie said police discovered a number of firearms in the house in an "insecure state", including one mounted with a laser sight and with rounds in the magazine left at the foot of a bed.
A green laser, believed to be the one directed at the ships, was found, but it was not mounted on a weapon. A number of fully loaded magazines were also found.
Long's firearms licence has been revoked.
McKenzie said Long was known to the police after being convicted a couple of years ago of running over a paua diver in his boat. He said Long attracted attention with some "cavalier" acts on the water and believed he did not use his weapons for hunting.
One island resident, who did not want to be named, said that Long was well-known in the area and described him as "pretty scary". Another resident described him as "a dangerous man".
McKenzie said the risk of directing lasers at ferry skippers should not be underestimated. Not only could it distract them at vital moments, it could also cause confusion regarding navigation lights. The initial "blinding" effect could take up to 25 minutes to clear.
Australia is banning the importation of high- powered lasers after a spate of "attacks" on planes flying into Sydney.