Body lay in flat for over a year

Inside Newtown Park Flats, where an elderly man had died up to a year before his discovery. Photo / NZ Herald
Inside Newtown Park Flats, where an elderly man had died up to a year before his discovery. Photo / NZ Herald

Wellington's mayor is urging people to get to know their neighbours, following the discovery of the body of an 88-year-old man who's thought to have been dead for more than a year.

Pensioner Michael Clarke was found dead in his council-owned Mansfield St flat in Newtown on Wednesday last week by police, who were alerted by council workers.

The council staff had been visiting tenants to make future accommodation arrangements, ahead of the demolition of the apartment block.

Mr Clarke had lived in the buildings, known as the "zoo block" due to its proximity to Wellington Zoo, for 30 years.

Councillor Stephanie Cook, who holds the Wellington City Council's social portfolio, says it was a terrible thing to have happened and it had shocked council staff.

She confirmed to Morning Report staff had been trying to get hold of Mr Clarke for several weeks.

"He lived quietly, he paid his rent and we had no reason to think that anything was wrong."

But she denied the council had a responsibility to check up on its tenants.

"We're not running an institution. We're providing homes for people and they have a right to privacy.

"It's a little unclear quite how this happened."

Neighbours told the Dominion Post Mr Clarke liked to keep to himself.

"We're boxed away in here and the only way you get out is in a box," the man, who wanted to be known only as Bob, told the paper.

"We're put away here, we're just forgotten about. We live as hermits and we die as hermits."

Another resident told the paper the discovery was a shock, but for months there was a "whisper going around" he might be dead.

"The only time the council check up on you around here is if you're late on the rent," Richard Henare told the Post.

Wellington City Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the incident served as a reminder people need to think about the welfare of their neighbours.

"Getting to know your neighbours - even if it just means knowing their name and saying hello - is an important way of keeping our community connected and strong."

She said it appeared the tenant kept to himself and was an extremely private man who appeared to have no close family.

"Physical isolation appears to be something that's more prevalent across society in this day and age."

Ms Wade-Brown said she had asked for an update on the council's processes for contacting tenants and is open to suggestions from agencies such as Age Concern.

- Herald Online staff

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