11 May 2017

Sue council over Havelock water contamination crisis, ill man urges

12:25 pm on 11 May 2017

A man left critically ill by last year's water contamination crisis in Havelock North wants the councils in charge sued.

Drinking water stations have been set up around Havelock North.

Drinking water stations have been set up around Havelock North. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

An investigation into the campylobacter outbreak criticised both the Hastings District Council and Hawke's Bay Regional Council for failing to safeguard the town's drinking water.

More than 5000 people got sick - many are still suffering - and 45 ended up in hospital during the gastro bug outbreak in August last year.

It may have also contributed to three deaths.

Grant, who only wanted to be known by his first name, contracted campylobacter when he visited his daughter in Havelock North and was one of at least three people left with Guillain Barre syndrome, which affects the nervous system.

"I was paralysed from the neck down, in intensive care for six weeks, I had to learn to walk again, talk again, even now I'm still in a lot of pain, I still have ongoing medical difficulties."

The report by Lyn Stevens QC found both the District and Regional Councils fell well short of protecting people from getting sick.

It pointed to inadequate supervision of water bore testing and the failure to act quickly enough to contain the contamination, which most likely came from sheep faeces.

Mr Stevens said while the failings did not directly cause the outbreak, the outcome might have been different without them.

But Grant said that meant little to him, and he wanted the councils to be properly held to account.

"The council has pretty much got off scot-free, both councils have. Personally I'd like to see a group of people that live in Havelock North actively pursue a law firm that would be keen on taking a class action against both councils."

Fe Hosford also said the report provided little comfort, and nine months on, her youngest daughter still had not fully recovered from the bug.

"She got a thing called slapped cheek at the end of last term, which for most kids you would just carry on, go to school, it's not a major, but for her, she was in bed for 10 days, miserable, and I'm sure that wouldn't have been the case had she not already been compromised by the campylobacter."

She said council officials should resign.

"If the chief executive and his team can stop hiding behind the mayor, and can step up and say actually 'we did our job really badly' and 'we are sorry' and some of us have to go, then I'll feel better."

Grant said he hoped the other councils would take heed of the report's findings.

"Hopefully other councils in the country can learn from it, because I wouldn't anyone to have to go through what myself and other people have had to go through."

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