Doing the “drains up” on a tragedy

The Spark November 2009
Mike Kay

 The disappearance of two year old Aisling Symes in the west Auckland suburb of Henderson on 5 October dominated the headlines over the next few days. There was mounting speculation that the toddler had been abducted. TVNZ sent their Sensing Murder “medium” Deb Webber to “assist” the Symes, a move that drew widespread criticism. In reply, the TV station stated: “We’re not trying to push a psychic message to make money and get ratings.” The British aristocrat Lord Ashcroft offered a $50,000 reward for her safe return (considerably less than the $200,000 he’d put up for the return of the stolen Victoria Cross medals)

 Aisling’s body was found a week after her disappearance in a storm water drain on a property adjoining the one from where she went missing. The police officer heading the investigation told the press that he believed the cause of death to be misadventure.

 But while the media focused mainly on the family’s heart-wrenching grief, some members of the public have started asking questions about storm water services in their local communities.

 The Spark spoke to two drivers, Jim* and Charlie*, recently made redundant from a firm specialising in vacuum loading about the state of the council contracting business.

 “We were laid off because our company was losing out to other contractors undercutting us on price,” says Jim. “The reason they were able to do so is that they are continually cutting corners. The storm water cesspits are up to 2.5 metres deep and need to be cleaned every three, six or 12 months. There are pits in Waitakere that are full of rubbish. The contractor paints a dot on the kerbside to indicate it’s been checked, but you’re lucky if they open the grates and suck out the dirt in one out of four occasions. They’re claiming off the council for work that is not being done.”

 Long term build up of refuse in the drain system increases the hydraulic pressure of storm water that can cause grates to pop off, which is what is suspected to have happened in the Aisling Symes case.

 “A good example is Whangarei a couple of years ago,” continues Jim. “There was severe flooding in the main streets. When I got sent up there, I found out why – there were pits so full that grass was growing out through the grates! I was taking two to three loads to the landfill every day at 4 tonnes each… about six times the usual volume.”

  “They’ve been getting away with murder for years,” said Charlie of such contractors, “and now they’ve got away with it literally.”


*not their real names



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