After two years, Mab' />

The last act in laying bare John Noel Mabey's big lie occurred on Tuesday but the danger to the public will go on for years.

After two years, Mabey, 45, finally admitted in the Thames District Court that the burglary in which he claimed his entire collection of 121 restricted firearms (pistols, machine guns and military-style semi-automatics) was stolen, was an elaborate fake.

Not that anyone had believed him for long. The suspicion of the police officer who originally attended Mabey's home at Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula was borne out by ESR forensic staff and a locksmith who found that the damage done to the locks on the gunsafe occurred when it was open. They also concluded that the window, through which burglars had supposedly gained entry, had not been forced from the outside.

Mabey pleaded guilty a year ago to a representative charge of selling restricted guns but continued with his burglary story until now.

The reason for his belated change of heart was that he got an indication that it wouldn't result in him spending a day longer in prison. The public good in such a deal was that it saved the cost of a trial.

So Tuesday's hearing was what the lawyers and judge called "a washing up". Mabey was sentenced to one month jail for making a false statement, to be served concurrently with the 21 months he is serving for selling guns. That means there is no change to his automatic parole date of November 1.

There is much to learn from his case. The hearing may have been a washing up of judicial details but the legacy in terms of danger to the likes of bank tellers and dairy owners is far from tidied away.

Only 11 of 121 of Mabey's restricted guns have been recovered. The bottom line for the public is that 110 guns classified as the most lethal are almost certainly in the hands of criminals.

Mabey has not expressed remorse. He has refused police requests for information to help locate the guns and that is not expected to change now that he's admitted staging the burglary. "He probably has a greater fear of those associated with the guns than anything we can bring to bear," says Waikato district head of intelligence Greg Nicholls.

It seems an understatement to suggest Mabey's actions are self-serving. He belatedly admitted selling restricted guns on the black market only after police got evidence he'd been doing just that - and trading before he claimed he'd been burgled.

Pity the policeman who collected him for court from Waikeria Prison last week. Mabey is said to have grizzled throughout the two-hour drive.

Mabey gained a gun licence as a young man and until this episode had no criminal convictions. In 1985 a "Collector's Endorsement" was added to his gun licence entitling him to have restricted weapons such as pistols and machine guns (his collection included 113 pistols and five submachine guns).

In 1993, he got an "E" endorsement which allowed him to have military-style semi-automatics.

In addition to the restricted weapons, Mabey had collected dozens of other weapons (photos taken by police after the burglary claim show stacks of rifles and what appears to be a rocket launcher) kept in the open in the house he shared with his mother and teenager daughter.

He appears never to have lost his weapons licence but his case raises a question about the adequacy of character checks made of gun licence applicants. Mabey appears to have had a gang connection. He so prized a "personal invitation" to the Hells Angels 40th anniversary (in 2001), he had it framed and hung on his wall.

Shouldn't that have raised a question about his suitability to hold a gun licence? The short answer from police is "yes" - had they known.

As part of assessing whether someone is fit and proper to hold a gun licence, who they associate with is taken into account, explains superintendent Tony McLeod, national manager of operations. That's because of the possibility of those the licence-holder mixes with getting access to his guns. A connection to a criminal group would certainly be relevant, says McLeod.

After years of apparent compliance, what changed for Mabey?

Tipping point appears to have been financial pressure. He'd taken out a loan of $576,000 and was unable to repay almost $70,000 in interest six months later.

Obese and in poor health, income was negligible from his stated occupation of farm contractor. He needed cash. His one valuable asset was his restricted gun collection.

Sold on the black market, each item can fetch many times its shop price, says Nicholls. The simple reason is that the buyer is unlikely to be assessed as fit to hold a gun licence.

Mabey's trade was lucrative. Police established one of his pistols sold for $7000. Jason Edward Evans, 31, a drug addict and drug dealer who found buyers for Mabey, told police he'd arranged the sale of 30 to 40 pistols for between $4000 and $10,000 each.

The police cannot be accused of having failed to check on Mabey (as appears to have occurred in the case of Napier gunman Jan Molenaar). It was notification that his collection was to be audited that prompted Mabey to fake the burglary in order to explain the absence of the guns he'd been selling.

Soon after police notified him, in July 2007, of the audit, he claimed his entire collection of restricted arms had been stolen.

"You would have known, every time you sold a gun, that it is likely that that gun would be used for criminal purposes and [that] in the pursuit of criminal offending, firearms regularly end up with the tragedy of a death or severe injury," the sentencing judge told Mabey in December 2008. "That is what you have unleashed on the public."

By the time of Judge Philip Connell's remarks, one of Mabey's guns caused the death of Whangamata man Nigel Lurman, 41, in September 2008. There were drug connotations. Lurman had been using with three friends, police said.

Methamphetamine and cannabis was found in raids on associated properties and one of Lurman's associates was charged with unlawful possession of the pistol.

No surprise that most of the 11 guns recovered were in the hands of criminals. Nicholls says police are coming across more and more people carrying hand guns, particularly those involved in drugs. Put it down, says Nicholls, to the money involved and to bravado.

When the armed offenders squad caught up with Richard Alan Duthie, 42, in a Grafton, Auckland, apartment in September 2007, he had Glock and Beretta pistols from Mabey's collection.

He was running amok. Earlier that month he had fired at police officers during a routine traffic stop.

Duthie was sentenced to 11 years with a minimum of six years non-parole (ineligible until September 2013) on charges arising from the shooting and for having methamphetamine and LSD for supply and drug-making equipment.

This is his third stint in jail. All three relate to drug and firearms charges.

Also in 2007, an associate of Duthie's, Brent Luke Greenwood, 31, was found in possession of a Browning .32 pistol that police believe is from Mabey's collection. He was sentenced to five months' jail for that but is behind bars again, this time sentenced to four and a half years for manufacturing methamphetamine and ill-treating a child.

Greenwood was declined parole in February and comes up again next February.

Gangs loom large. A Luger pistol from Mabey's collection was among guns found in a search in August 2007 of the Waitakere home of Mongrel Mob member James Dean Hemi Wilson, 48.

Wilson, who is currently in jail on methamphetamine charges, has a long record that includes a seven-year sentence for aggravated robbery.

He was first jailed in 1988, on LSD and cannabis charges. On that occasion his lawyer urged the judge to give his client "one last chance".

That lawyer was Peter Kaye, who has just finished representing Mabey - such is the circularity of life as a busy defence advocate.

Tribesman gang member Anthony Gordon Richards, 42, recently pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of six pistols and one rifle - one of the pistols came from Mabey's collection.

Which leaves Evans, the man who effectively acted as Mabey's salesman. Predictably, he is currently serving a jail sentence (three years, three months) for drugs (methamphetamine, LSD, ecstasy, cannabis) and firearms offences.

Evans' life since his teens has been dominated by drugs. He made crime news footnotes in 1988, aged 18, for a minor drug offence and intentional damage. By 2004 he was being described in court as "an out-of-control addict".

He had 1594 of the flu tablets needed to make methamphetamine in his car when stopped by police. He admitted touring the country's pharmacies as a "pseudoephedrine shopper".

Somewhere along the line, Evans met Mabey and added "gun trader" to his repertoire.

PROPOSALS TARGET GUN RULES

Laws governing gun ownership are in the process of being revamped.

Policy staff at Police headquarters are soon to put the Arms Amendment Bill before Police Minister Judith Collins.

Reclassification of certain types of sports guns as restricted military-style semi-automatics (MSSAs) is likely to be included, as is a requirement for owners of high-power airguns to get a licence.

Regulations in this regard have already changed (sports guns with the function of a free-standing pistol grip have been reclassified as MSSAs) and a $60,000 advertising campaign has begun.

But it is unlikely the requirements can be enforced without a law change.

Interest group, the National Shooters Association, is testing this via a judicial review.

The effect of such a law is that police keep a record of each of these guns as well as of the gun owner. It would require many owners to upgrade their licences to E endorsement and buy a gun safe.

A law change could help mop up 30,000 owners yet to be checked (out of 55,000) who didn't renew when 10-year licences replaced lifetime licences.

Jan Molenaar, who in May shot dead senior constable Len Snee, was among the 30,000 not checked.

McLeod says police have focused more on revoked and expired licences since then. Molenaar had 18 weapons, including MSSAs.

An inquiry in 1997 by former High Court judge Sir Thomas Thorp recommended registration of all firearms, establishment of an independent firearms agency, the banning of military-style semi-automatics and reducing licences to three years.

None of his recommendations became law.