2 Nov 2020

Former Dunedin Airport worker on trial over bomb hoax

6:16 pm on 2 November 2020

A former Dunedin Airport aviation security officer is on trial after a bomb hoax shut down the facility in March last year.

Preetam Maid, 32, at Dunedin District Court on 2 November 2020.

Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Preetam Maid is facing one charge of taking an imitation explosive device into a security enhanced area on 17 March last year.

The bomb hoax came at a time of heightened public fear and anxiety only two days after the Christchurch terror attack.

The discovery of a suspicious package on the airfield prompted the airport to close for hours on Sunday 17 March and caused significant disruption as domestic and international flights were turned back and sections of highway closed.

The Defence Force explosive ordinance team dealt with the imitation explosive device, which included a SodaStream gas cylinder, a butane canister, a cellphone and wiring.

Maid this morning denied the charge in the Dunedin District Court.

Crown Prosecutor, Robin Bates, said the bomb was fashioned out of various items similar to those which had earlier been taken to a room at the airport where contraband was kept.

"It was made up of, amongst other things, a SodaStream gas bottle, a butane canister, a battery powerpack, a silver cellphone and battery. Some of the components were connected by wire and cellotape had been used in the construction of that bomb," he said.

The bag containing the imitation explosive device was reported by Maid as he carried out an inspection of the airport's perimeter as part of his security duties.

The device was accompanied by a hand-written note which said: "Alpha Birds Crash Dunedin Emergency Fools".

A police handwriting expert said there were indications Maid might have written the note.

Bates said Maid's movements on 17 March raised suspicion.

"Particular interest was the fact that the defendant's access card records for that day ... showed access into areas which were unusual and, in particular, access into the corridor adjacent to the secure storage room - and that's the room where I've said some of these components for the hoax bomb came from - twice."

The Crown did not need to prove a motive but the device was found near an area where staff, including Maid, had raised concerns about security, Bates said.

"The defendant expressed a view that the fence was too low, it was near a public road and could be accessed easily," he said.

"Now this was a view certainly held by many of the avsec [aviation security] officers, his co-workers. But they will describe the defendant's behaviour as being very vocal and hot headed."

In the days following the hoax Maid contacted the media about his concerns and later a petition was started under his wife's name, Bates said.

"The Crown says the defendant was wanting maximum publicity about this event - this breach of security and it was a breach of security no matter which way you look at it. All part of the defendant's objective to increase security at the airport, increase his own work hours and create a fuss about these things."

Maid's lawyer, Deborah Henderson, said the defence case was simple.

"It is accepted by the defence that an item was found at the localiser hut at the Dunedin Airport. But the defence says it was not Maid who put it there and that Maid did not take an imitation explosive device into a security enhanced area."

The jury heard from the first of 45 witnesses this afternoon.

The trial is set down for a fortnight.