Cyclone Gabrielle: Chris Hipkins climbs down from criticised crime claims as roadworker says politicians are 'covering backside'

After earlier this week calling some reports of crime in cyclone-hit regions "unsubstantiated rumours", the Prime Minister has climbed down from those claims.

Newshub's spoken to a roadworker whose crews were held at gunpoint and said Chris Hipkins doesn't know what's happening on the ground.

On Sunday, the Eskdale community was on edge. They set up a roadblock to protect what little they had left from thieves.

"We were warned about threats and people with firearms maybe, maybe trying to get through roadblocks," one local said.

The very next day, the Prime Minister addressed the nation, saying he wanted to be "careful on the issues around law and order that we're not just responding to unsubstantiated rumours".

Not that he'd admit it on Thursday. 

When it was put to him that he dismissed crime on the ground as unsubstantiated rumour, Hipkins said "that's not true" and "that isn't actually what I said". 

At that Monday press conference, Hipkins said he was aware of one instance of someone being threatened with a firearm.

Newshub's spoken to a roadworker whose crews were held up twice in one night.

"The first staff member had a firearm pointed at him, then everything seemed alright. So then they carried on going through putting out road cones and that. And that's when the second firearm was then pointed at a second staff member."

Both were reported to police in the weekend.

"We've never even had anything this scary happen to us," the roadworker said. 

Gisborne police on Thursday said crime wasn't out of control in their area and there was disinformation being spread.

But the roadworker said Hipkins' "unsubstantiated rumours" comment stung.

"I was thinking it's quite a dag though because in a politician's point of view, it's all about them covering their backside. They're not here, they're not amongst it, they're not here firsthand."

National leader Christopher Luxon isn't impressed. 

"I think it's pretty unfair when the Prime Minister dismisses those residents' concerns as being unsubstantiated rumours when there are real concerns on the ground about crime."

On Thursday, Hipkins walked it back. 

"If people took from one of the comments I made any suggestion that I was diminishing the way they were feeling, I certainly regret that."


The Prime Minister sprung too quickly into defensive politician mode on Monday with his "unsubstantiated rumours" comment.

Hipkins was talking to the Opposition and went on the attack when he should have been responding to real fears in the community.