Page last updated at 00:11 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 01:11 UK

New Zealand fugitive finds infamy

William Stewart
Police warn that Stewart is a drug addict with unpredictable behaviour

A fugitive who has evaded New Zealand police for more than three months has developed a following on the social networking site Facebook.

William Stewart, or "Billy" as he is more commonly known, is wanted in connection with a series of burglaries in New Zealand's South Island.

But the fact he has avoided capture has seen him build up legions of fans.

Hundreds of people have registered on his Facebook pages, following his attempts to stay ahead of the law.

The Facebook pages have pictures of him, and updates on his whereabouts.

They also include posts from fans wishing him good luck, and some goading the authorities. One writes: "Police down here couldn't catch a cold."

Stewart first came to public attention after allegedly stealing dinner from a farm kitchen while on the run from police, and carving "thanks from Billy the Hunted One'' into the table.

Since then police have come close to catching him at least seven times, but he has dodged helicopters and slipped through police cordons.

He is reported by the local press to be stealing from shops overnight to eat and support his methamphetamine addiction.

It is also reported that he has stolen a series of vehicles while on the run and is believed to be armed.

Song inspiration

But none of that has citizens in the area worried.

His escapades have instead inspired a local entrepreneur to print a line of T-shirts with his image on them. They sell for NZ$60 (£24) on an online auction site.


And Robbie Robertson, a South Island freezer worker, has been so inspired by "Billy" and his success in outwitting the police, that he penned a song in his honour entitled "Billy the Hunted".

The Radio New Zealand correspondent in Christchurch, Matthew Peddie, says Stewart is viewed with some affection by people in the South Island.

"He's building into something of a folk hero," he told the BBC World Service.

But, he says, the police have also warned that he is a drug addict who is unpredictable and possibly armed.

"He's a bit of a rascal, but the public have been warned to steer clear of him. He's also fuelling a methamphetamine habit," he added.

The last sighting of him was reported more than a week ago.

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