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Neil Roberts Suicide Bombing

About

The following account is based on newspaper reports and web pages. Neil Ian Roberts was the grandson of Bertha Louise Rushbrooke and Watkin Roberts, and the son of Arthur and Myrtle Roberts. He was described as the son of a wealthy Auckland family, a popular and respected figure in the early NZ punk scene playing in several bands.  Neil committed suicide attempting to destroy the Wanganui Computer Centre because of concerns about the inevitable "police state" with the Computer Centre as it's figurehead.

Neil Roberts

Neil Roberts

Wanganui Computer

The Wanganui Computer operated from 1976 until 2005. It was officially known as the Law Enforcement System (LES). The system handled all operational, management and historical information needed by justice sector agencies, most notably Police, Justice and Land Transport. Later, the Serious Fraud Office and authorised local authorities were given access to the information stored at Wanganui. The system had terminals around the country, at police stations, court offices and Ministry of Transport offices. When opened the Minister of Police, Alan McCready, described it as "probably the most significant crime-fighting weapon ever brought to bear against lawlessness in this country".

There were concerns about privacy and critics likened it to something from George Orwell's 1984. Civil libertarians mounted numerous protests against the system. It was controversial because it was the first really large computer system in New Zealand that stored personal information.

The suicide

On November 18, 1982 at 12.35 a.m., Neil Roberts, comitted suicide when he attempted to bomb the Wanganui police computer, as reported in the Christchurch Press articles.

An inquest concluded that Neil was a suicide bomber.

The suicide is occasionally celebrated on the anniversary by anarchists and punk rockers in New Zealand.

 

The Press

18 November 1982, page 1

Fatal Govt centre blast

An explosion early this morning blew out the front doors of the Government computer centre in Wanganui.

The explosion about 12.40 a.m., is believed to have blown to pieces a person carrying an explosive device.

The fire brigade, ambulances and police were quickly on the scene.

The foyer of the computer building, Wairere House, was destroyed.

Seven staff were believed to have been in the building at the time of the blast.

Security guards usually stationed in the foyer of the building, were not injured, according to security spokesman, and none of the computer center staff is believed to have been injured.

The seven employees inside the building only began their shift about 90 minutes before the blast. Most were working on the first and second floors of the three-storey building and were evacuated through a back exit.

A man working in the first floor said: "All I heard was a terrific bang. We all went out the back way."

The Press

19 November 1982, page 1

Anarchist bomber acted alone

NZPA Wanganui

The police are satisfied that the young anarchist punk rocker who died when a bomb he was planting at the Wanganui Computer Centre exploded early yesterday morning was acting entirely on his own.

They have ruled out any conspiracy or plot to attack Government facilities by an anarchist group.

"We have conclusive evidence that he was on his own." said Detective Senior-Sergent R L Butler, who was in charge of investigations into the incident, last evening.

He named the dead man as Neil Ian Roberts, aged 22, unemployed of Auckland.

He said Mr Roberts had an anti-establishment background.

"He had long held antisocial attitudes and was inclined to protests of various kinds." said Senior-Sergent Butler. Mr Roberts had been identified by his fingerprints, which were on police records.

Mr Roberts was killed instantly, at 12.25 am., when the bomb he was carrying in a red hold-all exploded as he walked towards the entrance of Waiere House, which houses New Zealand's main law-enforcement services computer.

"From what we have learned about him, he intended to kill himself. He had become obsessed with committing this last, final, act." said Senior-Sergent Butler.

Mr Roberts had painted a last message on the wall of a toilet opposite the computer centre just before he walked over with the bomb.

The spray-painted message said "We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity." It was followed by the anarchy sign, the letter A painted in a circle - and the words: "Anarchy peace thinking."

After the explosion, pieces of Mr Robert's body, including his chest, which bore a new tattoo, "This punk won't see 23, no future" were scattered up to 65 meters away.

Nobody else was hurt and damage was confined to the shattered bullet-proof glass main doors. The blast rocked buildings 400m away.

Two security guards inside the building were knocked off their feet. The armoured glass round their cubicle, in the building's foyer, saved them from injury. The foyer was wrecked.

Mr Roberts had lived in Auckland, but had recently made frequent visits to Stratford. Friends drove him to the bus station in Stratford on Wednesday evening. As he boarded the bus he told them "I am going to Wanganui to do something frightful. If I should blow up the Wanganui computer, the cops will be around."

In Wanganui, he went to a service station where he bought a pack battery. He connected that to what the police described as a "fairly substantial amount of gelignite" and wired it to a detonator.

One of the two security guards at the computer centre foyer saw him approach the entrance and bend down. As the guard moved to ask him through an intercom what he wanted, there was a flash and a deafening roar.

It is believed that Mr Roberts had visited Wanganui with another punk rocker two weeks ago.

A policewoman who saw him and a friend in Wanganui two weeks ago said she particularly remembered them because they were wearing safety pins, and had razor blades in their ears.

Superintendent B K Dean said he had never before seen a body so mangled.

"They will be finding bits of him for days," he said.

The Minister of Police, Mr Couch, said it would come as a shock to most new Zealanders to learn "how far these people are prepared to go."

The Wanganui computer houses all records relating to New Zealanders held by the police, Justice Department and Ministry of Transport. The service was not affected by the blast, but non-essential staff were asked to stay home yesterday to allow the Ministry of Works to start reconstructing the wrecked foyer.

Security at key Government facilities throughout New Zealand was stepped up in the wake of the blast, while police made investigations.

A review of security at Parliament Buildings might now be necessary, said Speaker, Sir Richard Harrison, yesterday.

The chairman of the State Services Commission, Dr. Mervyn Probine, said even if the Wanganui centre had been destroyed by the explosion, there were contingency plans which would enable the system to be working again in a matter of days. Duplicate computer records were held elsewhere.

The Press

20 November 1982, page 1

Remains cremated

PA Wanganui

The remains of Wanganui Computer Centre bomber, Neil Roberts, were cremated yesterday near the site of his last gesture of anarchy.

The remains were cremated at a private ceremony in Wanganui as the police and bomb experts still tried to find out exactly what explosive he had used in the bomb that blew him to pieces at the front door of the Computer Centre in the early hours of Thursday morning.

It was still not known where Mr Roberts had obtained the explosive.

Detective Senior-Sergent R L Butler, who heads the inquiry, believes the explosive was probably gelignite and their could have been as much as two kilograms of it.

Earlier report, page 3.

The Press

20 November 1982, page 3

Bomber wanted to die young

PA Auckland

Neil Roberts, the punk rocker who died in the Wanganui Computer Centre bomb blast, often talked about killing himself "because he did not want to grow old" said a friend in Auckland yesterday.

Miss Bronwyn Dutton, aged 18, said that Mr Roberts, who was 21, had discussed blowing himself up a year ago, and had suggested that he should do it at the Beehive in Wellington.

"As soon as I read about the Computer Centre, I knew it was Neil. He hated the Computer Centre, probably more than anyone," she said.

Miss Dutton, who had known Mr Roberts since 1979, said that he was "very gentle, calm, and pretty intelligent."

Miss Dutton said she and Mr Roberts had had a "good talk" about death a year ago. His philosophy was that growing old was pointless.

Mr Roberts, who moved to Stratford about a year ago, became a punk in 1980 after leaving his job as assistant chef at the Snooty Fox restaurant in Victoria Street, Auckland.

The police say he was prominent in several protests and took part in demonstrations against the Springbok tour.

On his chest, a recent tattoo proclaimed "This punk won't see 23." He was 18 months from his twenty-third birthday when he died in the blast.

Detective Senior-Sergent R L Butler, of Wanganui, said yesterday that Mr Robert's parents had arranged a funeral to be held in Wanganui, rather than return his remains to Auckland.