26 Feb 2019

Mistake by border official allows British tourist to leave NZ

3:32 pm on 26 February 2019

An error by a border official allowed a British tourist wanted for assault and accused of being part of a roofing scam to leave the country, the NZ Customs Service 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 has fled the country using a foreign valid passport, Customs says.

Its group manager of border operations, Terry Brown, said it was a serious breach and the processes would be reviewed.

"He used an eGate, which uses biometric data to match and confirm the identity of a passenger," Mr Brown said.

"The eGate identified further checks were needed on the passport. The image was automatically sent to a Customs officer, who incorrectly identified Nolan as the passport owner."

Customs Minister Kris Faafoi said allowing Nolan to slip through the border was a major error, and said he used a "counterpart's passport".

"It's not ideal when someone uses their counterpart's passport to get out, and it's not picked up. I'm told it's rare. We also need to be mindful that it's human error, but I think Customs is doing the right thing in reviewing what has happened here."

He said police were looking into how he got the passport.

Mr Brown said it was a serious case of human error, but proved the biometric technology works.

"The technology is continually advancing, and in fact, in this instance, it proved its value," Mr Brown said.

"It did show that there were concerns about the matching of the passenger and the image in the passport, so in that sense, it worked very effectively.

"Unfortunately, it is a case of human error."

Mr Brown said it was common for an eGate to flag issues with a person's biometrics.

"But in most instances it's just a matter of having a secondary review, a second layer of defence, accepting that the image is in fact that of the passport holder, and allowing that to occur," he said.

"Commonly, it can occur in instances such as a mother and daughter, where a daughter inadvertently passes through an eGate using her mother's passport, and the biometric identity accepts her as valid, only to find that when the mother tries to go through using the daughter's passport, it isn't accepted.

"It's a matter of just balancing that off and correctly accounting for each person.

"But I would stress that this is the first instance that we've identified where a person has purposely sought to circumvent the controls through the fraudulent use of a valid passport.

"In that sense, it's also important to add that the passport that was used was not reported as lost or stolen, so there was no ability to put an alert in in regards to that passport."

Mr Faafoi said the review should be completed "sooner, rather than later".

"I think, the facts that we know now, it shouldn't take too much longer to pull things together," he said.

"It'll give more peace of mind to the public that the system is working, and I'd hope they'll have it turned around pretty quickly."

Mr Nolan was arrested in January for his part in an alleged roofing scam, but he failed to appear in court this month.

A warrant was issued for his arrest, but police said their investigations led them to believe he had left the country.

Detective Senior Sergeant Bridget Doell said in a statement police liaised with Customs and ensured border alerts were put in place.

Police said they believed Mr Nolan used an associate's passport and police were actively investigating the use of the passport.

Interpol had 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.