An Auckland mother left her baby twins in her car in a mall carpark for more than 40 minutes while she shopped, thinking it would be "okay" because she had parked in the shade.
Another shopper spotted the babies, believed to be nine months old, and after realising their mother wasn't coming back in a hurry, took matters into her own hands and got them out of the hot car.
She has since reported the incident to police and spoken to the Herald about why she effectively broke into a stranger's car and removed her children.
It was about 20 degrees in Auckland yesterday and humidity was at least 88 per cent when the woman and her mother left Westfield in St Lukes and went to their car.
"We got to the car at 3pm and I saw the babies. At first I thought the parents must be just putting a trolley away but no one came," said the woman who asked not to be named.
"The babies were getting more and more distraught. I thought the car was completely locked but then I saw the window was covered by a shade and was open. I reached in and managed to open the door and took the babies out. I held one and my mum held the other and we waited for their parents to get back ... it was about 3.30pm when she sauntered over."
The woman said the babies were hot, sweaty and distressed.
Mall security staff had come over and arranged for the owner of the vehicle to be paged over the public address system inside the mall.
"The babies were getting more and more distraught," said the woman.
"The mum got back at 3.30pm and said she parked at about 2.50pm. She said 'I was only going to be 10 minutes'. She had Kmart bags ... she hadn't heard them paging her. She said she felt terrible and 'you probably think I'm a bad mother'.
"Then she said, 'I tell my husband all the time that you can't leave your babies in the car in this country, they just go off at you'. Then she said 'I purposefully parked the car undercover and in the shade ... they normally sleep for ages'."
The woman, who has young children of her own, did not want to judge the other mother but was horrified at her explanation and excuse.
"Sure, we have all left our kids in the car to whip into the dairy to get milk or when we are paying for petrol but you don't leave them in a mall carpark," she said.
"And when she said 'they normally sleep' - does she do this all the time? I don't think the mother understands the impact.
"What if someone had crashed into her car, stolen her car or taken the children? What if something had happened to her in the mall and nobody new these babies were out in the carpark. I didn't sleep all night. I rang the police this morning on behalf of the babies - someone needs to know."
Police told the woman they would contact the owner of the car and speak to them.
"I just couldn't leave it. She would have been devastated if anything had happened to them."
Westfield spokeswoman Deb McGhie said security staff watched for situations like this and there were procedures in place.
Westfield staff did not initiate removing the children from the car.
"Obviously this woman was concerned and did what she felt was right at the time."
Ms McGhie said the babies mother told staff she had "whipped into the centre for what she thought would be a couple of minutes, but she got detained".
"Everyone was okay, everyone went home happy."
Ms McGhie said centre management were looking into the matter to see if any further action was required.
"Whilst everyone went away happy, this is not something we condone," she said.
"We don't make a habit of breaking into cars. Our procedure would be to leave the children in their seats but make sure they have got access to air ... then we would put a call out for the parents."
Security staff would stay beside the car until the parents returned.
If the children were in danger, windows were closed or the parents did not return, staff would call police.
"We are not here to judge ... our role is to ensure safety of the children, not to be judge and jury," Ms McGhie said.
"If we thought the children were at risk we would make a move to support their welfare. If that meant doing something to the vehicle before police arrived, we would do that."
She said the incident was a timely reminder for parents. With Christmas just weeks away and the weather heating up, parents needed to be vigilant about safety.
"That's a really important thing for us. Time can really get away from you [in a shopping centre]."
According to the Child Youth and Family website:
• In New Zealand, it is against the law to leave children under 14 without making reasonable provision for their care and supervision.
• What is considered "reasonable" also takes into account the circumstances under which children are left alone and the length of time they are alone.
• Parents are required to assess all the circumstances and make sure that any child left alone is safe and in no danger.
• Babies and young children should never be left alone at home or in a car, or unsupervised in any situation. In addition to the obvious safety risks, they can easily get frightened or distressed and can become anxious and insecure at other times, worrying about being left alone again.
• Older children, who are still under the age of 14, are generally not sufficiently mature to be left without adult supervision for more than a short time. They're also not old enough to be left alone on a regular basis.
• If parents do need to leave an older child alone for a short time, they need to make sure the child knows where they are and who they can contact if there is a problem. Talk to them about possible emergencies and check that they know what to do. Make sure that they feel confident about being left alone.
• Parents need to consider whether any situation could possibly arise that the child might be unable to handle.
Unattended children in New Zealand
• Earlier this year, a Wanganui health professional pleaded guilty to manslaughter after her child was left in a hot car and died. The court heard the boy died of heatstroke and dehydration. He was discovered only after his creche texted and then phoned to inquire where he was.Court documents stated the woman "omitted without lawful excuse to perform her legal duty to provide that child with necessaries, thereby bringing the death of the child in circumstances where her omission was a major departure from the standard of care expected of a reasonable person to whom that legal duty applied". The 35-year-old woman was discharged without conviction in the High Court at Wanganui and her and her son's names have been suppressed.
• In July last year, an Auckland woman left her 1-year-old daughter in a hot car at Sylvia Park for an hour and a half, prompting concerned mall staff to break in and rescue her. She and her older daughter went into The Warehouse - leaving the sleeping child strapped into a car seat in the back - and returned to the car 40 minutes later.Meanwhile staff had followed the sounds of crying to the car and located the little girl, trying to cough and crying hysterically. The 27-year-old mother pleaded guilty to a charge of child neglect and according to the charging document "omitted to perform her legal duty to protect her from injury - dehydration, heatstroke and choking - a major departure from the standard of care expected of a reasonable person". She was also discharged without conviction in the Auckland District Court.
• In 2012, a woman left her five children in a van in a SkyCity Casino carpark while she and her partner gambled for two hours. The 29-year-old woman and her 39-year-old partner - who have name suppression to protect the identities of their children - played slot machines and drank alcohol at the casino bar while their five children, aged between 11 months and 9 years, were left in the van in the carpark. According to the police summary, the woman took "one minute" to check on the children after an hour before returning to the slot machines. The children were found after a couple heard "hysterical crying" from the van and called police. The couple were charged and the man convicted while the mother was granted a discharge without conviction.