German tourists in New Zealand 'steal van by accident'

Interior of a Toyota car (generic image) Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Many travellers to New Zealand buy a cheap car and sell it at the end of their visit

Three German tourists who stole a van from Christchurch Airport in New Zealand have told a court they thought it had been abandoned for free use.

The tourists said they had heard that backpackers often left their cars at the airport when leaving New Zealand if they were unable to sell them.

They found the van, with keys, in the airport carpark on Tuesday and drove away, but were soon stopped by police.

The court found them guilty and ordered them to pay NZ602 (£310; $456) damages.

Friedrich Weisbach, 21, Hans Lorenz Steinfurth, 20, and Isabelle Caroline Manna, 21, had arrived in Christchurch from Australia.

They admitted taking the van, owned by Lucky Rentals and worth NZ$10,000, but said in their defence that it was not an obvious rental and was not in the rental area of the carpark.

It is not uncommon for backpackers to buy a cheap used car or van when they arrive in New Zealand and then sell it on when their tour is over.

Their lawyer said they wanted to plead guilty rather than seek a diversion - under which convictions can be waived for first-time offenders who agree to certain conditions - so they could continue their travels.

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