A man in a long black trenchcoat and carrying what looked like a samurai sword forced a school into lockdown and sent armed police to the University of Waikato in Hamilton yesterday.

Sixteen police were sent to the university to scour the grounds after reports of an armed man about 9.30am.

It took 90 minutes to find him.

He turned out to be a 25-year-old member of the university's sword fighting club, who was in fact carrying an umbrella that looked like a weapon.

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"The sword is actually an umbrella that, when a button is pushed, activates," Senior Sergeant Rupert Friend said. "The man was quite shocked at the response his activities had generated and most apologetic. We are currently working to identify the supplier of these devices and others which include an imitation shotgun."

Mr Friend said that although such items were not illegal, people needed to use a "degree of common sense" about where and how to use them.

"The member of the public who rang 111 did exactly the right thing. We would far prefer to deploy to an incident and find there is no threat than ... fail to learn of a genuine incident."

Mr Friend said police worked with the university to send out an alert email to everyone on campus to find the man in the trenchcoat. During the scare, police ordered a local primary school to activate its emergency plan and go into lockdown. APNZ