23 Mar 2009

Fugitive may have changed vehicles

4:19 pm on 23 March 2009

Police hunting for a man in Canterbury believe he may have changed vehicles and is using a red flat-back truck.

William Alexander Stewart, 47, has been on the run from police since early February, successfully evading a number of attempts to bring him in, including police cordons at the weekend.

Police say Mr Stewart poses a danger to the public and is described as unpredictable and possibly armed.

Mr Stewart has previously been seen in a stolen purple Ford Falcon XR6 with the registration number CEF 988.

However, police now believe he may also have a red, half-cab Toyota Hilux - with the registration number BYG 187- which was stolen several weeks ago in Mid-Canterbury.

Mr Stewart was originally sought for breaching bail on cannabis charges. He is now alleged to have been involved in several burglaries and car thefts, including the ram-raiding of a pharmacy in the Christchurch suburb of Halswell last Thursday.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Rae says Mr Stewart stole a car from a farm in Tai Tapu, south of Christchurch, on Sunday morning and then gave two people in Hororata a ride.

He says Mr Stewart picked up the couple who were walking back to a motorbike rally from the pub and dropped them off at the rally. He then sped off toward the Rakaia Gorge, where a police roadblock was unattended.

Mr Rae says the fugitive is likely to be within a 600km radius of south Christchurch.

Police scanner used

Police believe Mr Stewart has used a police scanner to keep track of the operation to find him.

Mr Rae is not disclosing how many officers are involved in the hunt, saying police do not want Mr Stewart to know the extent of the operation to find him.

He says rugged terrain, with large areas of bush, makes it difficult to search, even from the air.

Mr Stewart was spotted riding a motorcycle in the Governor's Bay area early on Friday and fled when he saw a police roadblock.

Mr Rae says the wanted man's previous haunts include Darfield and the Ellesmere and Rangitata areas.

Residents in those areas, particularly those with wooded properties, should keep their homes and vehicles locked.