Antique bayonet returned to man after Fair Go intervenes in year-long battle with customs and police

A year-long battle with customs and police is finally over for a West Coast man after they released his antique heirloom World War 1 bayonet - following the intervention of Fair Go.

South African immigrant Keith Hartley declared the bayonet when he arrived in New Zealand in 1999 - and he was granted an import permit for it retrospectively.

It was one of the few items from his family's history that he had been able to bring with him when he left his homeland, and it's been passed from father to son for 100 years.

"There was not much we could bring with us… It's part of my heritage," he said.

Keith Hartley received a letter confirming approval of the importation from customs, but never received an actual copy of the permit. So when he returned from a stint living in Australia last year with wife Shelley, Keith again declared the bayonet - only this time, it was seized by customs.

"Because I hadn't got an import permit for it, I couldn't get my bayonet back. And I said, 'but I've got the permit' and eventually they informed me that my permit had expired."

Turns out, the permit Keith was granted the first time round was only valid for one importation - not that there was any way of knowing this as neither the customs nor police websites made it clear at the time.

"It's a complete misunderstanding. I was under the impression everything was 100 per cent correct," he said.

When Keith appealed on the grounds that this was a precious piece of his family's past, police wrote back that his claim was dismissed on the grounds that there were no "exceptional circumstances".

"I know very little about my grandfather. I never met him. The only thing I have left of any significance to him is the bayonet. I'm not going to go out and fight anybody with it - it'll probably disintegrate," he said.

Police told us there are no set guidelines for what constitutes "exceptional circumstances". So Keith wasn't even sure on what grounds he could appeal to the firearms office, or customs.

However, a last minute plea to the police from Fair Go has given the Hartleys a happy ending.

Last week customs was advised by police the bayonet could be released, and it's now back in Keith’s hands.

"Thank you so much," he said. "Common sense has prevailed."

Customs has advised it has updated its website with more detailed information about import permits for offensive weapons - of which a bayonet is one.

Police have also issued some guidelines for anyone wanting to import an offensive weapon. Owners must get a special permit from police before bringing the item into the country, and before declaring it to customs. 

Permits only apply for a single importation, after which they are no longer valid. 

For more than 100 years a WWI bayonet – belonging to his grandfather - has been the pride of Keith Hartley's family. Source: Fair Go