New Zealand: How Campbell cracked medals mystery – by accident

A secret meeting between TV3 star John Campbell and one of the men charged over the theft of historic medals from the Army Museum at Waiouru was caught by a hotel security camera and helped police make arrests.

The controversial Campbell Live interview was screened in February, just months after two West Auckland men allegedly forced their way into the museum and stole 96 medals, including Victoria and George Crosses.

The suspects were finally arrested a fortnight ago.

TV3 was forced to admit it had made a mistake by not informing viewers the interview featured an actor and was a re-enactment based on the covert meeting at a central Auckland hotel, just one street away from the city’s central police station.

But today it can be revealed the Campbell Live crew was unknowingly captured on closed circuit security cameras operating in the lobby of Auckland’s exclusive Duxton Hotel where the secret meeting with the alleged thief took place.

It has emerged that detectives probing the medals theft seized the security footage from hotel management, and it is expected to be shown to jurors at the trial of the two men, who have been charged with one count of burglary. Their names remain suppressed.

Asked whether he thought his star host would be called as a Crown witness, TV3’s head of news and current affairs Mark Jennings said: “It is a possibility I suppose, but I don’t think that will happen.”

The detective heading the inquiry was reluctant to comment on whether Campbell would be called to testify on his meeting with the suspect.

“This is very delicate but yes, this will be part of the court case,” said Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Bensemann.

At the time of the interview, TV3 defended its decision not to tell police anything about the identity of their source, saying that was their job as a news organisation.

Campbell said at the time he had been wary of giving too much away on the programme as it may have led to police identifying the man. He said the discussion with him was audio-taped but not video recorded.

“We didn’t have him on camera because he had anticipated and we had anticipated precisely what happened yesterday [February 21] that the police would turn up,” Campbell told the Sunday Star-Times days after the interview.

“In a circumstance like this it’s not even possible to really point a camera anywhere near him.”

Meanwhile, details have emerged for the first time of the prosecution case against the accused.

Police allege they left Auckland on December 1 last year, and as they approached Cambridge just after 6pm they were issued with a speeding ticket.

They arrived at the museum at 1am, allegedly repositioning two floodlights and plunging the building into darkness.

The pair allegedly smashed their way in through a second-floor fire exit and activated an emergency exit switch allowing them to gain entry.

Police believe the two then ran down the stairs into the Valour Alcove where the medals were displayed and, 45 seconds after breaking into the building, they smashed the cabinets and removed the 96 decorations.

They then drove back to Auckland where the medals with an estimated value of $5,470,000 were allegedly stored in an inner-city storage unit registered in a false name.

Following the thefts, a reward totalling $300,000 was offered by England’s Lord Michael Ashcroft and Tom Sturgess of Nelson. In February, high-profile Auckland barrister Chris Comeskey brokered a deal which saw the medals returned to police and the reward claimed.

Last Tuesday the 96 decorations were finally returned to the museum in a military ceremony.

The two men charged with the burglary of the Army Museum appeared in the Auckland District Court on Friday, where they were remanded in custody to reappear at Wanganui District Court at the end of the month. The judge allowed media to capture images of the defendants providing they were seated and the images were pixelated to mask their identities. That followed arguments by defence lawyers who said identity, and the “stature” of the men would be important at the time of their trial. Expert evidence relating to how the men walked would be called.

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