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Cell mishap: Police staff ‘devastated’

By Emily Norman

[email protected]

The police officer in charge of the man left forgotten in a court cell this weekend is “devastated”.

Wairarapa Police Area Commander Inspector Donna Howard said when the staff member heard the 59-year-old man was found in the cells on Monday, their first concern was for his “health and wellbeing”.

“They were devastated,” she said.

“Everyone comes to work to do a good job. They obviously feel very responsible.”

Ms Howard said there were still a lot of questions regarding the incident, but believed it was a “genuine human error in terms of a breakdown of communication”.

The man, who had appeared in the Masterton District Court on Saturday morning after breaching bail conditions, was left “cold, hungry, and terrified” for two days and nights.

He used his shoe for a pillow and a concrete slab for a bed.

He was found at 8.45 on Monday morning.

“He obviously heard activity around the courts, so when our police prosecutor went through, the gentleman was standing up at the door by the small viewing pane and was seen then,” Ms Howard said.

“When we were speaking with him, he was pretty traumatised – there’s no two ways about it, and very overwhelmed.”

The man was taken to the police station where he was examined by a doctor, given a hot drink and some food, and was talked to by police.

Police took the man back home to his family after he was “cleared” by the doctor.

Ms Howard said the man and his wife had both acknowledged apologies from police.

“I gave him an undertaking that the priority now was to find out how it happened,” she said.

“It’s about figuring out what we can do better to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Ms Howard said she called the national manager of Police Professional Conduct about mid to late morning on Monday, and they then notified the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA).

IPCA general manager Warren Young said the IPCA had referred the matter back to police to investigate under the IPCA’s “active oversight”.

Mr Young said he was aware of one other incident now being investigated involving “a young person being inadvertently left in a locked room at a police station” in Wellington – “although for a much shorter period”.

 

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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