A schoolgirl on a week's work experience at a Mount Maunganui law firm was left speechless when a client walked in and presented her with what he claimed was a live bomb.
Alex Spedding, 16, told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend the man entered Beach Legal carrying a metal canister he said was a bomb, prompting evacuations of nearby buildings and the immediate area on Maunganui Rd.
The student was sorting mail and answering phone calls on work experience when the man, who she initially thought was a maintenance man, walked in at 11.10am yesterday.
"He walked straight to the desk and just placed the metal canister on the desk.
He asked for a bit of paper and started writing aggressively about what he called the 'reactor engine', the supposed bomb, and it would go off at 1 o'clock," she said.
She later discovered the client had an appointment with his lawyer at 1pm.
Stunned, Alex stood back as the man then stripped off his T-shirt and threw it at her.
"He said if the T-shirt was on the canister, everyone would be safe and the bomb wouldn't go off," Alex said.
"I was totally shocked. By that point he was talking very loudly."
The man then fled the office while a staff member, who had witnessed the incident, called police.
Alex then placed the shirt on the canister, seeing that it was empty. Alex, who is from Gisborne, said she was not upset as the ordeal had taught her how to deal with difficult situations.
Beach Legal partner Jenny McDonnell said the man's actual words when he threw the smelly shirt at Alex were "put it on the container and it will keep you safe".
"As if it were some sort of magic dust or something," she said.
Ms McDonnell had arranged the week's work experience for her niece as a way for her to get a feel for the industry.
"It's actually been a wonderful learning curve for her. It wasn't a frightening experience," Ms McDonnell said.
Staff at Beach Legal said the man was wound up, but they did not think his aggression was directed at them.
Fellow partner Tricia Jones said she thought the man was simply "unwell" and they were confident the bomb threat was not serious.
Inspector Karl Wright St-Clair said police examined the so-called bomb and it was actually a metal cylinder, similar to a billy can. He said a 46-year-old man was found by police about 11.30am in the Mount Maunganui shopping area. No charges were laid and the man was referred to mental health services.
Police blocked off a lane of traffic outside the upstairs legal offices on Maunganui Rd. Below, the Post Shop and Diamond and Co stores were evacuated as crowds gathered.
Local man John Briggs said he was doing some shopping before work when he saw police stopping traffic and pedestrians.
"I just saw police go into the building and move people away to another area," Mr Briggs said. "People have been saying it's a bomb scare."
Mount Mainstreet manager Leanne Brown said the incident served as a reminder for people, especially those who worked alone, to be safety conscious.
"There are some odd people within the community and people need to be mindful of the busy and stressful time of year," Ms Brown said.