Controversy follows sale of policing 'taonga'

NZPA | Sun April 1st, 2018

The overseas sale of a unique medal awarded posthumously to Aramoana massacre hero Sergeant Stewart Guthrie has raised eyebrows in policing circles around New Zealand.

Sgt Guthrie George CrossGuthrie was awarded the George Cross for bravery after he was shot dead on November 13, 1990, by gunman David Gray, who killed 12 others the same day at the seaside settlement near Dunedin.

The medal is the second-highest Commonwealth award (after the Victoria Cross), given for conspicuous gallantry “not in the face of the enemy”, and the highest that can be awarded to a civilian. It recognised Guthrie’s courage and heroism on the day.

Two other George Crosses have been awarded in New Zealand, but both to military personnel and both still in the country, one housed at the Waiouru Army Museum and the other held by the family of the recipient. That makes the Guthrie medal one of a kind.

Until last year, the medal was held by his widow. When she died, the award passed to their children, who made the decision to sell it.

A sale was brokered with a well-known private medal collector, British billionaire businessman Lord Ashcroft, and an application was made to New Zealand’s Ministry of Culture and Heritage which approved its export under provisions in the Protected Objects Act 1975.

The ministry has said that when it gave approval for the cross to leave New Zealand, it followed all the procedures under the act, including seeking advice from expert examiners, although it has not said who those experts were.

Police News is aware that Police was not asked for an opinion, or offered a chance to buy the medal, and nor were two other recognised medal experts, John Wills and Phillip O’Shea.

No one has questioned the right of the family to sell the medal, but the decision to let it leave the country has raised serious concerns.

The feeling among some in Police, and in the wider policing community, is that the medal is a taonga not only of the country’s policing history, but New Zealand history in general.

Lord Ashcroft has said he will provide the medal for display in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery of the Imperial War Museum in London. He has been quoted as saying, “this much-treasured decoration will be safe and secure… for a very long time to come”.

This has raised another question: Why is a medal awarded to a civilian in peace time in New Zealand considered suitable for display in a British war museum?

One suggestion has been that a much better resting place – and one accessible to more New Zealanders who have some connection with the events at Aramoana – would be the Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin, which already has a section devoted to the mass killing that remains the deadliest in New Zealand.

 

The citation for the issuing of the medal appeared in the London Gazette in February 1992. It read in part:

With limited resources available to him and impending darkness, Sergeant Guthrie had the task of locating and containing the crazed gunman, dealing with the wounded and preventing further loss of life. On arrival near the gunman's house, Sergeant Guthrie deployed the constable to cover the front of the house while he located himself at the more dangerous position at the rear. A thin cordon of the gunman's house was later completed by the arrival of a detective and two constables… The gunman had been sighted within his house and it can only be presumed that Sergeant Guthrie chose the dangerous position based on his sense of responsibility and the fact that he knew the area and the gunman. Sergeant Guthrie had taken cover in sand dunes… when suddenly out of the darkness he was confronted by the gunman. Sergeant Guthrie very courageously challenged him, saying "Stop... stop or I shoot". The sergeant then discharged a warning shot from his .38 calibre police revolver. The gunman then moved around and down upon the sergeant killing him instantly in a volley of shots.

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