Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Christchurch earthquake: 'Face of looting' is autistic - family

Arie Smith's foster sister has said Arie has Aspergers syndrome which compels him to steal light fittings. Photo / File photo
Arie Smith's foster sister has said Arie has Aspergers syndrome which compels him to steal light fittings. Photo / File photo

One of the men charged with looting after the earthquake is autistic and has a mental disability that compels him to steal light fittings.

Arie Smith, 25, became a figure of hate when he was named and shamed after appearing in a makeshift district court charged with theft. He was photographed with a black eye.

He was denied bail by the judge to send a strong message to Christchurch looters, and was remanded in custody until his next appearance.

Judges are imposing harsh punishments in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Smith is alleged to have stolen two lightbulbs and an antique light fitting from a quake-stricken home.

But Shannen Davis said her foster brother has Aspergers syndrome, a form of autism, and other mental disabilities that "make him" collect light fittings.

"What he's done is wrong, we know that, but there are mitigating circumstances for Arie. It's unfair he has become the face of looting."

She said he had been in prison "without any help", and threats of violence had been made because people did not know the full story.

Ms Davis said Smith had been in the care of the state since he was two and became her foster brother when he was 12.

"He's been in our life ever since. He's a wonderful young man who wouldn't hurt a fly. He would do anything to help someone, that's the irony of it all.

"For years, he's been obsessed with lights, switches, fittings, all sorts of bits and pieces. He loves that sort of stuff and his condition just makes him take it."

Ms Davis, 23, said she learned about Smith's arrest when she saw his face in the paper.

She did not blame the police for arresting Smith, or the media for reporting the criminal charges. But she hoped his tarnished reputation could be restored.

"He really is a nice guy, he would give the shirt off his back to help someone. He was distraught from the quake, like everyone else, but the first thing he did was text his foster mum, my mum, to see if she was okay."

Yesterday, Max Whiteman smashed two windows in a Christchurch house at 8.30am, and by 2pm had been sentenced to two months in jail.

The 44-year-old, also known as Kevin Riley, has 106 previous convictions and has served 16 jail terms.

He said he was drunk and had no recollection of the morning incident in Ferry Rd that put him back in prison.

- NZ Herald

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