17 Nov 2017

Jim Donnelly - The answer lies in the mill

From The Lost, 2:31 pm on 17 November 2017

Tracey Donnelly kissed her husband and waved him off to work 13 years ago and, for her and her children, life as they knew it stopped that day. She wants to know why.

Tracey Donnelly, wife of missing person Jim Donnelly, pictured at home in Auckland, 2017.

Tracey Donnelly, wife of missing person Jim Donnelly, pictured at home in Auckland, 2017. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Where am I?  Who am I now?

My life was normal. We were a family of two adults and two children. Then one day, everything changed.

On June 21, 2004, my husband, Jim Donnelly, didn’t come home from work at the Glenbrook Steel Mill, where he worked for nearly 20 years.

Life as I knew it stopped existing that day. It was like I was on a speeding train, which took me from a place where I knew who I was to a place I didn’t want to go.

The husband who loved and cared for us disappeared into the ether.

As I write this, my mind takes me back to a boardroom at the mill 13 years ago, while search and rescue were combing the fields next door to the site.

I spoke with psychologists and search and rescue coordinators about Jim’s behaviour before that Monday morning. We all agreed he behaved bizarrely over the weekend, but they were sure he wasn’t a suicide risk. I was told maybe he had a breakdown. Either way they were sure he would be found.

The weather wasn’t great and I couldn’t help but worry about him being out there - was he warm enough? Did he have shelter?

I spent days at the mill waiting. At home, I tried to keep it all together, especially in front of the children. This was still week one and I hadn’t told the children yet, just in case we found him. I was sure we would, because we were a normal family. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to us. But it did.

A week in, some of his stuff was found inside an acid vat at the mill. His hardhat was placed outside the vat - did Jim put it there? That idea is illogical to me. Maybe Jim didn’t put it there. Maybe someone else did –WHO, WHY and HOW?

The mill is supposed to be a secure site. That’s what they kept telling us. How did this happen in the middle of search and rescue, with mill staff all knowing there was a missing person on-site? Why did no one see anything? I can only presume someone knows.

I could go on from here describing the minutes, hours, days, months as I moved from then to now. While the immense pain has subsided somewhat, I am no closer to the truth about why and how this loss occurred. Only that I still find Jim in the children’s smiles and the way they raise an eyebrow. He is always around.

Jim Donnelly and children, Siobhan and Liam.

Jim Donnelly and children, Siobhan and Liam. Photo: Supplied

I am still looking for the answer, I still hope to find out what happened.

The facts:

Jim’s car was in the carpark at the steel mill

Jim changed from his civvies into the work uniform

Jim signed into the area where he worked that morning – and never signed out

Jim was last seen inside the steel mill near his office

My opinion has never changed. To me, the answer lies in the mill - the last place Jim was seen. I approached the mill management with a request to allow access for a private investigator. This request was declined. I found this very frustrating. Didn’t they want this mystery solved?  Jim was one of their workers. How will I get answers if the mill isn’t co-operating?

Glenbrook Steel Mill, just south of Auckland, where Jim Donnelly went missing in 2004,

Glenbrook Steel Mill, just south of Auckland, where Jim Donnelly went missing in 2004, Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The steel mill management was more than happy for people to think Jim left their site voluntarily, but there is no evidence to show or prove this.

What are they worried about? Why in this day and age of workplace safety haven’t they been made to be more accountable? Are safety regulations just a farce, there to only say we implemented notices and advise of hazards? Aren’t the mill bosses responsible for the loss of a worker who signed into work and never signed out?

It’s fallen on me to prove he went missing while still in the mill. Surely, it should be on the mill to prove otherwise.

I feel powerless against a corporation that doesn’t care.

RNZ sought a response from the mill. A spokeswoman said: “NZ Steel  fully cooperated and assisted with the police investigation into Jim Donnelly’s disappearance,  including full searches of our site, and provided support where it could to the people affected.”