Burton's 1998 prison escape led to intense police manhunt

  • Breaking
  • 05/01/2007

Graeme Burton, the armed and dangerous fugitive being hunted by police, was prepared to go down in a hail of bullets when he escaped from prison nine years ago, according to a fellow escaper.
 
Burton and three other prisoners escaped from Auckland Prison at Paremoremo - the country's most heavily guarded maximum security prison - in 1998.
 
One of the four said after his recapture that Burton and the other two were  ready to die in a shootout with police.
 
He said the trio were armed and would not surrender without a gunfight and were prepared to die.
 
"They will hold out to the last," he told media from his prison cell at Paremoremo a few days after he had been recaptured alone near the small Coromandel Peninsula township of Tairua.
 
A gunfight did not happen and Burton and the other two were caught without a shot being fired, 10 days after they escaped from Paremoremo.
 
After their recapture the escapers were quoted as saying they had been "shit scared" of the armed police.
 
The escape led to one of the most intense manhunts in New Zealand involving more  than 100 armed police searchers, including members of the police special tactics group carrying sub machineguns, semi-automatic rifles and pistols.
 
Police searched the Coromandel Peninsula on foot, by sea and by air for the four men.
 
The first of the four was spotted by armed police as he sat with his back against a tree and his head on his knees, exhausted after 10 days on the run.
 
The other three were caught three days later in a luxury holiday house they had broken into near Tairua.
 
Police had already searched the house but were tipped off by a broken security light a few days later and arrested the three men without a fight.
 
The four prisoners fled from Auckland Prison on June 15, 1998.
 
The escape was marked by some ingenious methods of avoiding detection.
 
After the four escaped from Auckland Prison, they were believed to have buried themselves in decaying bush to stop their heat signatures being picked up by the infrared heat-seeking camera on the searching police helicopter.
 
The air force also provided Iroquois helicopters to ferry armed police to search  areas.
 
The men were thought at the time to be armed at least with a shotgun and a .303 calibre rifle.
 
Discarded ammunition was found at one of the houses they were thought to have burgled.
 
Roadblocks were set up around Tairua and armed police stopped every car.
 
The search area covered about 8km of Coromandel coast and inland west of the Tairua township, much of it thick bush.
 
Many of the holiday houses were well stocked with food and clothes and police feared the escapers could easily survive without hardship.
 
Within minutes of the trio being caught the town of Tairua was in party mode.
 
Champagne corks popped and locals said there was a great feeling of celebration.
 
The latest incident involving Burton has prompted the Government to demand an explanation why he was released on parole.
 
Burton was a convicted murderer and prison escaper.
 
He was wanted in connection with a vicious attack on Paul Connelly at Tory St's Maison Cabriole apartments in central Wellington about 4pm on Wednesday.
 
He was released on parole in the middle of last year and since his release had accumulated an arsenal of weapons, some of which are the same as those used by police.
 
Duty Minister Ruth Dyson said the Government wanted a report on the reasons for parole being granted and whether or not the conditions of the parole were adequate to ensure public safety.
 
-NZPA
 
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