Alleged threats of a hit job, crossbows and helicopters, no this is not a Hollywood blockbuster but New Zealand bee keeping.

A bee keeper's tea break turned into a 45-minute interrogation with a loaded crossbow and baseball bat after his boss was convinced he was stealing honey from him, an Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decision has revealed.

Brad Purcell, the keeper, was awarded $37,000 by his former employer Eco Bees New Zealand, a honey-making company based near Tauranga.

Purcell resigned on April 13 2017, four months after beginning work as a hives manager, because of physical and verbal threats made by his boss Tim Ponder, the company's co-director.


Purcell's role as hives manager included finding suitable locations for the hives.

Such locations were often remote in order to ensure a close distance to the preferred vegetation, particularly Manuka, for the bees to forage.

Ponder and his mother, Eco Bees' other director, Nicola Ponder, suspected Purcell and another worker were stealing hives and honey from the business.

On March 14, Nicola, her husband Tony Ponder, and their bank manager asked Purcell for information on hive locations and numbers.

"He sent her a photograph of a handwritten page tallying hives at different locations. His count totalled 709 hives."

Nicola thought that to be short by 300 hives, adding to the Ponders' suspicion.

The Ponders planned to confront the employee now they had "good proof", the decision said.

During a tea break on March 20 2017, Purcell and another worker, Joel Norris, were confronted by Tim Ponder and three other men, Purcell said in his statement.


Purcell said the men came in, the doors and curtains were closed and the two workers were shown a loaded crossbow and baseball bat before being physically and verbally threatened for 45 minutes.

After the meeting, Purcell was asked by Nicola Ponder to go on a helicopter flight to survey the hives at the company's eastern Bay of Plenty sites, he said.

"On return from the two-hour flight, Purcell was told to leave his work-supplied vehicle, a ute, and to walk home from the rural property."

The next day police interviewed Tim Ponder after executing a search warrant at his house, the decision said.

"The search located a rifle and ammunition under Mr Ponder's bed as well as the crossbow and baseball bat mentioned in the statements of Mr Purcell and Mr Norris.

Purcell said he was threatened with a loaded crossbow while Ponder said the crossbow was already at the table at the time of the 45 minute interview. Actual crossbow not pictured. Photo / Supplied
Purcell said he was threatened with a loaded crossbow while Ponder said the crossbow was already at the table at the time of the 45 minute interview. Actual crossbow not pictured. Photo / Supplied

"Mr Ponder was subsequently convicted of possession of a firearm without a licence. In June 2017 Mr Ponder was also charged with assaulting Mr Norris in a separate, later incident," the summary of the police interview said.

In the interview Ponder said he had called a meeting because he had "hard evidence" the two workers were stealing his honey and hives.

He had shut the door and curtains to prevent the two from running away, he said.

"He said he waved his fist at Mr Purcell's face 'a couple of times'.

"He denied threatening to hit Mr Purcell but said he 'was probably intimidating him, as such ... to try and get the truth out of him'."

During the decision, Purcell sought $20,000 "as compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings resulting from how he was treated by Eco Bees".

"This included what Mr Purcell said was a threat that Mr Ponder made that day to pay $15,000 for a 'hit' on him if he or Mr Norris told anyone about what happened."

The ERA decision ordered New Zealand Eco Bees to pay Purcell $23,483 in lost wages and $13,500 as compensation for injury to his feelings.

The business operated from a shed on the Ponders' rural property at Te Puna, near Tauranga.