15 Mar 2012

Inquests into two council flat deaths conclude

8:22 pm on 15 March 2012

Inquests into the deaths of two men whose bodies were found in their city council flats months after they died, have concluded in Wellington.

Wiremu Whakaue's body was found in March 2010, but it is believed he died eight months earlier.

Michael Clarke's body was found in August 2011 but he is believed to have died a year earlier.

Several attempts were made to inspect Wiremu Whakaue's flat and on the fourth occasion a locksmith was called and his body was discovered.

The state of decomposition meant that no accurate cause of death could be determined.

Mr Clarke's body was found when council staff went to talk to him about a planned upgrade of the block in which he lived.

His flat was covered in soot and the inquest heard it was likely that his toaster had caught fire.

Mr Whakaue's body was discovered by a Wellington City Council staff member in March 2010 in his Newtown council flat. Items found in his flat suggested he may have died the previous June.

Wellington's Coroner heard that four attempts were made to contact Mr Whakaue before he was finally found dead in his flat.

Peter Hunter, the City Council's support services manager for city housing, said letters had been sent to Mr Whakaue early in 2010 telling him that his flat was due for inspection.

He said no response was received to each of those letters and when a contractor knocked at the door there was no reply.

Mr Hunter said on the fourth occasion the contractor called council staff and a locksmith got them into the flat.

He said the council now holds master keys for its flats.

The council's lawyer Craig Stevens told the court a new community liaison officer has been appointed to work with tenants, but the council has to be careful as it could be prosecuted if tenants rights are breached.

He said both men chose to live as recluses and the council had to respect that.

Genesis changes policy

Catherine Mace from Genesis Energy, told the Coroner that Mr Whakaue last paid his power bill in June 2009 and when subsequent attempts to contact him failed, his power was disconnected in September that year.

Genesis Energy has changed its disconnection procedures since then.

She said those contact attempts were made by automated telephone systems, but since Mr Whakaue's death all customers are contacted in person before the power is cut off.

Another witness said that after Mr Whakaue's body was found, an inspection of the block of flats in which he lived in revealed a person had been squatting under the stairs - even installing a bed there.