Firearms stolen from New Zealand police amid buyback scheme

New Zealand police were left red-faced Friday after admitting 11 firearms have been stolen from a police station while in the midst of a nationwide buy-back scheme following the Christchurch massacre.

The firearms - some earmarked for destruction - were stolen from the Palmerston North police station in the central North Island.

"I am very concerned about what has occurred. It is absolutely unacceptable," acting regional police commander Sarah Stewart said.

Radio New Zealand reported at least one stolen weapon was a banned semi-automatic, but Stewart refused to confirm this nor would she say if any ammunition was taken.

"Eleven firearms which were in an exhibit storage area are currently unaccounted for. I should be clear that these were not police firearms, but were a range of weapons being held as exhibits or handed in for destruction," she said.

Police commissioner Mike Bush has ordered an immediate investigation into the theft and an audit on security around firearms at all police stations in New Zealand.

Police said they were searching for a 38-year-old man who was seen in the police yard around the time of the theft.

In the wake of the March 15 mosque attacks in Christchurch, in which 50 people were killed, New Zealand rushed through legislation to tighten firearms regulations.

The new laws are aimed at removing semi-automatic weapons from circulation through a buy-back scheme, prohibition and tough prison sentences.

About 3,000 firearms have so far been either handed in or the owners have completed an online form saying they were available for collection.

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