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Armed police swoop seen as 'over the top'

Last updated 12:00 16/02/2013

JAMES GREENLAND

WARNING: John Hodge with the sign he placed at the gate when he was target shooting on his Ruby Bay property.

John Hodge faced four rifles aimed at his chest when he met police at the front gate of his Ruby Bay property.

Five armed police responded to reports of gunshots in the Tasman district yesterday.

But, as it turned out, Hodge had been shooting clay birds on his own 4ha property with his visiting son Rowan - as a sign on his driveway attested.

A neighbour had heard the shots and alerted police at about 1.45pm.

Hodge said he and Rowan fired about 40 shots, divided evenly between a 12-gauge shotgun and a 7.62 rifle with a silencer.

He received a phone call from police about 15 minutes after the pair had finished shooting and locking the guns away. Five minutes later, armed police were at his gate.

"I met them at the gates. I had to sort of put my arms up while three or four rifles were pointed at me," Hodge said.

"I just thought it was over the top. I only had my wallet and cellphone on me.

"I'm all right, I was just making a bit of noise," he said.

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Motueka police sergeant Rob Crawford said police treat anything relating to firearms seriously.

Police entered the property and talked to Hodge, Crawford said.

"It is an offence to discharge a firearm in or around a dwelling and, even though it's a rural area, he's still within 80 metres of other houses.

"It's also an offence to discharge a firearm with intention to alarm, or to do so unintentionally through negligence,"  Crawford said.

Police did not charge Hodge, but he was issued with a warning.

He said he had shot firearms on his property before, though not often.

Hodge said he had taken every safety precaution to ensure no accidents happened, including locking his front gate, which was about 100 metres from his makeshift firing range, with a digital combination lock.

He had also erected a sign halfway down his driveway warning of a "live firing range", in case anyone did enter the property. His "firing range" faced a grass bank below his house.

"I knew the builders were not here, I knew that the kids were at school, I knew the lady next door was at work. I knew there was no one here," he said.

"We weren't firing across the property, we were firing towards the house.

"They said even though I had taken all the right precautions, that I have upset someone and that's an offence.

"It was just a warning, but if I am upsetting people it's an offence, so I can't do it any more."

"I've just put in a line of trees and I don't want rabbits here."

"You get a 10-acre bit of land, then I'm told you can't use your shotgun."

Hodge has lived there for three years. He understood the police had to take reports of gunfire seriously, but said it was unnecessary for them to raise their weapons or to issue a warning.

"It wasn't just the cops, it was 15 of the buggers."

Neighbours who live 40m down the road said they had not heard the gun shots. "You don't hear guns out here very often," Pete Hancock said. ‘Though, occasionally people shoot for rabbits out these ways.

"The problem out here is that it's not quite rural and not quite residential," Hancock said.

Hodge said he thought the person who called the police must have been from Wellington and never heard a gun before.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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