Britons accused of kidnap plot after bunker is found

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The Independent Online

New Zealand police have foiled an alleged plot by three Englishmen to kidnap a prominent businessman and hold him for ransom in an underground bunker barely bigger than a coffin.

New Zealand police have foiled an alleged plot by three Englishmen to kidnap a prominent businessman and hold him for ransom in an underground bunker barely bigger than a coffin.

The three include a lawyer who was under guard in hospital yesterday recovering from wounds received when he was bitten by a police dog. The men were armed with a sawn-off shotgun when they were arrested in the Botanic Gardens in the capital, Wellington, on Monday night.

The plot was uncovered after two hikers found the bunker – a timber and plywood box – in a forested area outside the city a fortnight ago. Police allege that the suspects were planning to hide their victim there. The bunker is 6ft long by 3ft wide, and about 3ft deep. Its roof, 1ft below the surface, was covered with earth and foliage.

Two of the men – a 34-year-old builder and a 21-year-old unemployed man – appeared in court yesterday charged with four kidnap and weapons offences. The lawyer, 52, will face the same charges after he is discharged from hospital this week. The others were remanded in custody until next Monday.

The judge in Upper Hutt District Court suppressed the suspects' names after their lawyer, Shane Robinson, said they had not had time to inform their families.

The three men, all British-born, were living in Upper Hutt, a commuter town east of Wellington.

The businessman, who was taken into hiding before the arrests were made near the city's parliament, has asked that his identity be kept secret.

Police did not know the identity of the intended kidnap victim and established who he was by working through a list of potential targets. They decribed him yesterday as a middle-aged man from Wellington, unconnected with the political scene. Police said it was not clear if the box had been built at the woodland site or made elsewhere and transported there. Detective Inspector Norm Cook said: "The degree of planning and preparation used in building and concealing the bunker suggested the kidnapping was well planned."

The discovery of the bunker prompted a surveillance operation involving 60 officers, some of whom were armed.

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