14 May 2009

Fugitive's hero status undeserved, say groups

8:48 pm on 14 May 2009

Farmers in Canterbury say they are sick of hearing wanted man William Stewart being called a hero.

Mr Stewart has been on the run from police since February and is believed to have committed a number of burglaries and vehicle thefts in Canterbury.

In the past four months, Mr Stewart has gained significant public attention and has a Facebook fan site, a song and T-shirts dedicated to him.

President of the Mid-Canterbury branch of Federated Farmers, Michael Morrow, says he was unnerved when police told him Mr Stewart was camping in an area near his property.

Mr Morrow says the farming community is sick of him taking advantage of farms to continue his game of cat-and-mouse with police.

He says he cannot believe people are calling the fugitive a national folk hero.

"Like most farming folk in Mid-Canterbury, we've just about had a gutsful of this guy hogging the headlines ... the sooner he's caught and locked up people can get on without looking over their shoulder the better."

South Canterbury Women's Refuge says it is also alarmed. Co-ordinator Dawn Rangi-Smith says she was involved in counselling Mr Stewart's former partner and is appalled at the public support for him.