David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Daring thieves steal the lot

This man was photographed at the Pepperwood Mews, where workers posing as demolition men left the apartments badly damaged.
Photo / Supplied
This man was photographed at the Pepperwood Mews, where workers posing as demolition men left the apartments badly damaged. Photo / Supplied

Burglars have stripped an empty apartment complex stealing everything - including 32 kitchen sinks.

The crews behind the thefts posed as demolition workers and spent weeks inside the Auckland apartments.

They brazenly parked a truck in the driveway and erected a bright orange safety fence before donning hard hats and high-vis vests.

Inside, they ripped out window frames, doors, bathroom vanities and even the wiring in the walls. The railings on the balconies have gone, as have carpet, kitchen benches and almost every electrical fitting.

Police have arrested four people and charged them with burglary after they were found in the 32-unit apartment complex in Kelston. They have pleaded not guilty.

Pepperwood Mews has gone from being much-needed state housing to a derelict eyesore. It was built in 2004 for investors under a Housing New Zealand Corporation deal to lease the flats to pensioners.

Residents moved out in 2009 after the $12m complex was condemned as structurally unsound. It has since become the focus of a legal case between the 32 owners, Auckland Council and Housing New Zealand.

Detective Senior Sergeant Andy King said four people had been caught working in one of the 32 apartments. He said three men and one woman faced charges relating to items taken from that unit.

"They allege they were working for somebody else. They were advised, if you tell us who that is, we can look at the charges."

Owners' group chairman Adrian Chitty said about $500,000 worth of fittings had been torn up, ripped out and carried off.

He said the people arrested gave police a cellphone number for the person they say hired them to do the demolition.

When officers rang the phone they identified themselves to the person answering who disconnected the call, he said. Officers had since been unable to connect to the cellphone number.

Chitty said it was possible those arrested believed they were working legally.

"Someone, somewhere has seen an opportunity to make some money and they have moved in. It's bloody frustrating."

He said the owners had filed a complaint with the Independent Police Conduct Authority over the standard of patrolling around the apartment and the investigation after the burglary.

Another owner, Judy Anderson, said they were alerted by engineers who were hired to investigate demolishing the apartments. She said the engineers were surprised to find workers already on site and took photographs of the truck and a car. Herald on Sunday inquiries have discovered the truck is registered to Otahuhu's Alliance Demolitions. The company says it is working with police to help identify the man who borrowed it.

The engineers also photographed a man wearing an orange jacket leaving the complex. The owners say the man had no permission to be on their property.

Anderson said the four were arrested after she called police.

"I'm calling it a heist, a robbery. This is just beyond our imagining. They even took the kitchen sinks - 32 of them.

"The hideous situation the owners face - they have lost income from the building, some have to leave their own homes. And they have had this last little bit of money taken out of the building which was going to fund the demolition."

Alliance Demolitions owner Andrew Davy said he was working with police to identify anyone involved. He said they had loaned a truck to the family of a staff member, but they had not explained what it was used for.

He said Alliance Demolitions had nothing to do with the Pepperwood Mews or the demolition.

Cost from the apartment complex has already forced some of the owners out of their own homes to meet the mortgages still owing on the development.

Professional litigation funder LPF Group has backed the owners and was underwriting legal costs.

The owners claimed Housing NZ set the project in motion and Auckland Council signed the building certificate so the two bodies should meet the cost of the failed development.

Housing NZ's asset development manager Sean Bignell said the state housing provider had always denied any fault.

- Herald on Sunday

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