MORRISON, Tina-Marie.  Dominion; Wellington, New Zealand. 22 June 1998: 1. 

POLICE hunting for four escaped prisoners believe they may now be heavily armed after high-powered guns and ammunition were stolen from a vacant Coromandel Peninsula house that was left booby-trapped with explosives.

Senior Sergeant Gary Allcock, of Auckland, said the focus of the hunt moved yesterday to the small town of Tairua, on the east coast of the peninsula, after police found a car stolen from Muriwai, West Auckland.

The escapers were believed to be hiding out in a five-kilometre area of bush backed by farmland, but it was also possible they had escaped by boat.

Mr Allcock said police were first called to the peninsula about 11.45pm on Saturday after a neighbour noticed suspicious activity near Tairua in a vacant “palatial” residence.

“In the 15 minutes between the call and the arrival of police, the occupants had left the residence and gone bush. But two cars were found, one of which had been stolen in Muriwai.”

Mr Allcock said police hoped to speak to the owner of the second car last night. He would not say where it was from or if the owner was known to the escapers.

Police later found explosive devices in the house and in one of the cars. The devices were defused by midday yesterday.

They were believed to have been made from items found in the house.

One had the potential to cause substantial damage.

Some guns and ammunition were found on a beach near the house yesterday, but police were not sure if there were still some guns missing from the house.

Police said there were clues suggesting a woman had been with the prisoners at some stage in Tairua.

Armed police would search today the 20 to 30 houses in the area, some of which were vacant holiday homes.

Police were “reasonably confident” they had the escapers contained in the bush area.

Police had been focusing their searches for the four on Muriwai since a sighting of the men last Monday, the day they unbolted the steel bars on the window of a shower block at Paremoremo prison and fled through a hole cut in the prison’s perimeter fence.

Armed police failed to find any sign of the four — Arthur Taylor, 41, Matthew Thompson, 21, Graeme Burton, 27, and Darryn Crowley, 26 – – on Wednesday after reported sightings of them near Muriwai.

Burton and Crowley have murder convictions and the other two have a long history of robbery and other charges.

Mr Allcock said police did not know if the four were still together, but believed others could be helping them.

Supplied by New Zealand Press Association