26 Feb 2019

Unruly tourist flees NZ using someone else’s passport

From Checkpoint, 5:19 pm on 26 February 2019

The passport picture that a British tourist being sought by police used to depart the country had a "fleeting similarity" to him, a Customs official says.

James Nolan has fled the country using someone else's valid passport, Customs says.

James Nolan has fled the country using someone else's valid passport, Customs says. Photo: Supplied

James Nolan departed on 26 January after failing to appear in court this month on charges in relation to an alleged roofing scam.

A warrant was issued for his arrest, and police said they believed Mr Nolan used an associate's passport to leave this country and were actively investigating.

Customs group manager of border operations Terry Brown told Checkpoint Mr Nolan had departed under a fictitious name but used a genuine passport - the owner of which is still in New Zealand as a visitor.

"It is quite unusual given the circumstances of someone knowingly and willingly making available their genuine passport to another person for fraudulent use," Mr Brown said.

"It was not reported as lost or stolen, and to put it into perspective we are unaware of any other instances where a person has purposefully sought to circumvent our controls through the fraudulent use of a valid passport."

Watch Checkpoint's full interview with Terry Brown here:

Mr Brown said he had seen the image used in the passport and Mr Nolan's image at the e-gate.

"There is a fleeting similarity but the purpose of having invested in our e-gates and biometrics facial recognition technology is to ensure that it removes the human interface."

Mr Nolan used the e-gate process, which alerted a Customs officer that there was a "low match" for the image used in the passport and the image of his face.

An officer reviewed and accepted the image and the passport biometrics image as a match.

"We do place, and rightly so, a high degree of confidence in the biometrics facial recognition technology," Mr Brown said.

"There are other ways of defense which should have been applied and were not applied, that includes the face to passport check and the request for further identification to substantiate the person's identity.

"They [the Customs officer] made an error in accepting the image as a match, and that's part of a review process that we'll undertake now."

Mr Brown said the officer had spent less than two years in the Customs sector but had been employed specifically to do this type of role.

He said it was a concern that the situation was not elevated to the next tier of checks.

"Well that's serious and we're obviously displeased about that, which is why we'll conduct a review to see whether our internal processes are sufficient to protect us against a future event."

Police earlier today said they liaised with Customs and ensured border alerts were put in place after Mr Nolan failed to appear in court.

However, Mr Brown said that did not mean he would have been intercepted in this particular set of circumstances.

"We have an alert system which is structured, it's pretty catered on knowing the identity of the individual," he said.

"In this instance, Mr Nolan, departed New Zealand under a fictitious name using a genuine passport and masqueraded as that person, so having an alert in the name of Nolan would not have intercepted him in this instance.

"When police consulted us, we made inquiries and that's where we identified that Nolan had departed using this passport, so that is the reality."

Mr Brown said that if Mr Nolan had been in possession of his passport and attempted to depart under it then "that would've been subject to an alert".

"He needed to go down this course of action simply because he didn't have possession of his passport - that was in the possession of police.

"Now the officers should have still picked it up, I'm making no excuses for that and that's unfortunate. But I don't believe in the context of 40 million passengers and the fact that we manage our alert system so very successfully, and have done over a number of years, that there is any reason for the public to be concerned.

"It's regrettable that any person can achieve what they've achieved by these means and we're very unhappy about it."

Interpol has also been notified and police said they would continue to liaise with partner agencies both in New Zealand and offshore.

Two other men, Tommy Ward and William Donohue, appeared in the Wellington District Court last week via video link, charged with using a false roofcare business card and invoice.

They are in the country on holiday visas.

The men were remanded in custody to reappear in the Auckland District Court on 8 March.