The largest fire in Kerikeri for many years destroyed Killara, seen below, our beautiful house at around midnight on 9/10 September 2011. The property stood in 11.8Ha of what appeared to be beautiful land just outside Waipapa.
In April 2012, I was wrongfully arrested for arson, it took over 3 years before the Court acquitted me. There was never any real evidence at all against me.
It was all a well planned strategy to allow insurer, STATE INSURANCE, part of the IAG group, to avoid meeting the claim.
The TRUTH behind the story is far more complicated!
In fact, the land near to Kerikeri on which Killara had been built had HISTORY!
We had no reason to suspect there was a pollution problem so close to Kerikeri. After all New Zealand was constantly advertised as 100% Pure. In 2004, The NZ Immigration Department had sent us a useful book which included paragraphs stating that NZ didn’t have the pollution found elsewhere in the world.
Remarkably, the same book with the same wording was being used in 2015 and quoted by the BBC, it is still in place today!
Whilst we had no reason to consider that our Kerikeri land was
polluted, that in itself wasn’t our major problem.
The big story is how the land became polluted in the first place and how we ended up owning and being responsible for the pollution on it!
- In the 1960’s NZ Government used our land as a TOXIC WASTE dump. Our digger driver when he was installing our new swimming pool exposed decayed boxes of decayed chemicals that had been buried. He removed them reburied the material near our barn.
- All the records of the dumping and disposal of the chemicals were simultaneously ‘lost’ by all the council offices in NZ. An investigation into the events by Lowe Pearce in 1994 detailed the findings at that time. The search for the unrecorded dumpsites continues to this day.
- In the 1970’s the land was cleared for farming. The NZ Government cleared the bush using the same defoliant spray used in the Vietnam war by the US forces 2,4,5-T 2,4,5-T is contaminated by dioxin. This was manufactured at the Dow Chemical Works in Paritutu, New Plymouth, later famous for the number of dioxin damaged babies born in the area.
- Noel Hodges was the tenant, he was successful at cattle farming so was allowed to purchase the land. He later changed large parts of the farm to fruit production, planting windbreaks around those areas to protect the crops.
- Our land was right on the edge of the Kerikeri volcanic soil area. The fruit did not like the heavy clay below the volcanic layer, it grew weakly and became very susceptible to insect attack. Noel used large amounts of Lead Arsenate spray in his attempts to save the crop but this was largely unsuccessful. There were no restrictions or controls on the making or use of this material by the NZ Government.
- In the 1980’s Noel subdivided our land, 11.8Ha, and it changed to RESIDENTIAL zoning. He sold the land which I believe included a house/barn in roughly the position where Killara stood to Steven Johnson and his wife. He apparently tried to farm it but found it very difficult. A group of Maori elders visited us in 2010, they told us that the owner had got seriously ill. He sold the land and moved to the Middle East. The elders had then placed a curse on it to prevent it being bought by other Maori. They removed the curse in an attempt to assist us.
- The Land Title is confusing but it appears to have passed through several hands. Ian Knox of Ray White Estate agents in Kerikeri sold it twice during this period.
- In 1991, the NZ Government passed the Resource Management Act 1991, (RMA) it includes sections that changed the liability for the remediation of polluted land. A polluter, occupiers or current owners (even if innocent parties) can all potentially be liable for contamination and the cost of the remediation under the RMA. Effectively it allows the polluter of the land to escape the responsibility to remediate the land by selling it to a new owner without disclosing the land is polluted.
- In 2003, Sally Gaw, a Ph.D. student, now a professor at the University of Canterbury researched Pesticides in Horticultural soil in the Auckland region. This study revealed that 69% of the land historically used for horticulture in the Auckland region had serious contamination issues. In particular from Lead, Arsenic, DDT and Dieldrin.
- In 2004, Auckland Council included the potential pollution identified by Sally Gaw on the HAIL List and on the Land Information memorandum of almost 5,000 homes in the Auckland region. This caused uproar and threatened the Council with massive legal costs as the property owners took them to Court for loss of property value. The Council had no proof relating to the contamination their specific properties.
- The Council backed down and removed the LIM entries on ALL properties built on old horticultural land. All the other councils in NZ that had also acted in the same way also removed the LIM entries.
Killara’s Kerikeri LIM report had no mention of any possible pollution from the 1960’s or later, almost certainly due to it being removed in 2004.
- Rogan and Heather Moody, the previous owners of Killara, had discovered that the water was contaminated with arsenic. They installed a large water filtration plant and a ‘Billy’ instant boiling and iced water unit in the kitchen which also had a built in, significant, filtration system in an attempt to prevent them consuming any of the pollutants.
- Ian Knox, in 2011, would tell us that he had been assured, before he listed the property, by Rogan that the filtration systems removed all the contaminants . Filtration cannot remove dissolved chemicals from a water supply.
- We had been exchanging emails about Killara with Ian Knox before arriving in NZ. When we visited him we found that his office desk had a plaque showing he was a Justice of the Peace. He discussed how he was involved with the Estate Agent governing body working on cleaning up the estate agent business. The whole business seemed to revolve around him. He also explained about his important role in the town and his involvement with the Kerikeri Retirement Village.
- He had sold Killara twice previously and knew the property very well. However, he never mentioned that the land and water was contaminated until it slipped out during a conversation with my wife and I in 2011.
- Heather Moody was ill when we viewed the property with symptoms that five years later would closely match mine. Looking back, we should have realised there was an issue. There were no gardens at Killara, the lawns ran right up to the edge of the building. No bare soil could be seen anywhere, the entire 11.8Ha was mown grass. The water filtration looked wildly over the top. We accepted the ‘Billy’ system as an advanced domestic appliance when it really was a commercial system designed for cafe use and cost over $300 a month to run!
Unaware of any of the above events, in late July 2005 we purchased the property for $1,680,000. Rogan advised us to install a second large water tank since with the four of us the single tank may be inadequate.
Killara’s LIM report gave no warning of possible pollution. The Government had assured us that no pollution existed in NZ so we didn’t even consider it, we were delighted with the house.
We immediately started work, completing the ground floor suite. Installed a luxury swimming pool complex with ‘gym’ pool and spa pool all extensively landscaped right next to the house.
In addition, extensive equestrian facilities were added, an olympic size, 60m x 20m, menage, the barn with stabling and further fencing.
Overall we spent over $800,000 improving the property which looked fantastic. It was furnished with the european furniture we had brought with us to NZ.
Little did we know that we had bought the 21st century equivalent of a prehistoric tar pit trap, once in, there was no escape except death!
Looking at the illnesses we now all suffer from after living at Killara for 5 years. I can only assume that everybody who has ever lived there will be in the same position. All of us eventually will probably die due to the exposure to the arsenic and other contaminants at the property.