13 Oct 2009

Grieving Symes family thank police and community

10:29 pm on 13 October 2009

The family of Auckland toddler Aisling Symes have spoken of their grief, saying words cannot describe how much she will be missed.

The two-year-old's body was found in a stormwater drain on Monday night, a week after she vanished from a Longburn Road property in west Auckland.

Waitakere police say results of a post-mortem conducted on Tuesday are consistent with drowning and there is no evidence of injury.

The girl's body has been released to parents Angela and Alan Symes and the death will be referred to the coroner.

Family members thanked police and community for their efforts at a news conference on Tuesday.

Wymond Symes, a cousin of Mr Symes, praised police for their professionalism.

"No words can describe Angela and Alan's pain and anguish. This past week has been a traumatic ordeal for us all. We cannot thank the Waitakere police enough for all they have done and continue to do for us."

The girl's uncle, David Ball, thanked the local parish and wider community for their messages, flowers and tributes which have been flooding in.

"The compassion and support given to us highlights our faith in humanity. The loss of Aisling is unbearable (but) we have, however, some sense of resolution that Aisling has been found."

The family has asked for privacy while they grieve.

Police defend initial search

Police have defended their search on the first day the girl went missing, saying they did everything they could with the resources they had.

The toddler was found in a Longburn Road drain near to a manhole cover which was ajar.

The officer in charge of the investigation, Inspector Gary Davey, says an officer saw that the 20kg manhole to the drain was open on the night she disappeared and climbed in to check it with a torch.

Inspector Davey says search personnel and the girl's father also checked the drain during the initial search.

Mr Davey says a camera was put into the drain at both ends the day she went missing, but it failed to detect if anyone was there.

Only the fact that there was a blockage occurring made police decide to dig it up.

Drain complaints made to council

Waitakere City Council on Tuesday defended the way it has responded to complaints of faulty drains in the street where Aisling Symes was found.

Residents on Longburn Street say they have made numerous complaints about flooding or heavy rain that has caused manhole covers to lift off.

The council confirmed it received a complaint about a manhole cover on 11 September this year. Council workers attended the scene five days later to check for blockages and were in the process of deciding what to do next, but no action was taken before Aisling Symes went missing.

Sonia Carrington, who rents a property across the road from where the girl disappeared, says she first reported a faulty manhole in the area two years ago. She says heavy rain would often lift the drain's lid.

Another resident, Stacey Baker, says she called the council three or four times in the week before Aisling Symes went missing to complain about flooding that caused the manhole cover to come off.

The council's director of public affairs, Wally Thomas, insists it has only had four complaints in the past five years and denies there is a problem with registering complaints or with response times.

Mr Thomas says there are more than 22,000 manhole covers and grates in the city and the fact they lift from time to time is just the nature of the drainage network.

Waitakere City Mayor Bob Harvey says tragedy does raise questions about manholes and their ability to pop during heavy rain.