New Zealand police red-faced as thief steals 11 guns from station

WELLINGTON (REUTERS, AFP) - A burglar stole 11 guns from a police station in New Zealand, some of which were surrendered to the authorities in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Christchurch, police said on Friday (April 26).

Police are looking for the suspect, who escaped after he was spotted by an officer in the station yard in Palmerston North, a city on North Island. His getaway vehicle was recovered later.

"Eleven firearms which were in an exhibit storage area are currently unaccounted for," acting Central District Commander Inspector Sarah Stewart said in a statement on Thursday's robbery.

"I should be clear that these were not police firearms, but were a range of weapons being held as exhibits or handed in for destruction. I am very concerned about what has occurred - it is absolutely unacceptable," Ms Stewart said.

Radio New Zealand reported at least one stolen weapon was a banned semi-automatic, but Ms Stewart refused to confirm this nor would she say if any ammunition was taken.

Police commissioner Mike Bush has ordered an immediate investigation into the theft and an audit on security around firearms at all police stations in New Zealand.

Gun owners across New Zealand are handing their guns to the police after the government passed tough new firearm laws banning semi-automatic military style firearms and other accessories, in the wake of the country's worst peacetime mass shooting in Christchurch in which 50 people were killed.

People have until Sept 30 to surrender the guns at local police stations.

About 3,000 firearms have so far been either handed in or the owners have completed an online form saying they were available for collection.