Inventor's name cleared after P-lab proven to be cannon

For 18 months police argued Clint Curley was a drug manufacturer, cooking up methamphetamine in his mate's shed.

Curley's family knew the truth - their son wasn't a P cook but an inventor who died, aged 25, when a pneumatic long-line launcher he was building exploded in March, 2011.

But the police wouldn't have a bar of it.

When Geoff Curley heard of his son's death, he flew back from Thailand where he worked in construction.

Detective Senior Sergeant Al Symonds told him the incident had been caused by his son manufacturing methamphetamine and that, legally, the police were able to make an example to deter others from doing the same thing.

"He was frothing at the mouth . . . he wasn't interested in the truth," Geoff Curley said.

"I asked what proof he had and he said ‘listen mate, I've been doing this for 30 years I know what a P-lab is'."

Police released a statement to media a few days later linking Clint Curley to the offending.

"It is evident that Mr Curley was in the process of manufacturing an illicit drug when a chemical process went wrong resulting in the explosion that killed him," Symonds said. After Curley died, his mate, Keith Gallagher, who owned a one-bedroom unit and a shed in rural Glenbrook, was charged with permitting his premises to be used for drug offending.

The trial started last week, but on Friday defence lawyer Shane Cassidy brought an application before the judge to dismiss the charge and it took only minutes for the case to be thrown out and the jury discharged.

Key evidence came from a doctor who said the chemicals found at the scene were consistent with the device that Curley's boss, Rex Page, said he was constructing.

Page told the jury they had spoken about him building a compression chamber out of schedule 10 steel pipe as part of a long-line launcher.

Page advised him to use schedule 80, which was stronger. Curley went with schedule 10 and the pressure vessel that blew up.

The dismissed charges effectively cleared Curley of wrongdoing and confirmed what his family said since the day he died.

Curley had played age-group rugby for Counties Manukau, was an undefeated Thai boxer and had been the school cross-country champion.

"He hated drugs," his dad said. "He was always trying to invent something or improve something."

Before his death, Clint Curley, who worked long hours as an engineer, had built a two-bedroom extension on his parents' Waiuku home where he was going to live with his fiancée, whom he planned to marry at the end of the year.

The tight-knit family were "like the Brady Bunch" but, Geoff Curley said, since the tragedy and the allegations against his son, his marriage had broken up while his daughter Skye and son Jay were profoundly affected.

"If I look up my brother's name it comes up with ‘P lab explosion'," Skye Curley said.

"On top of us grieving we had all that put on us as well - cops treated him like a piece of shit."

She said her brother loved life and even if police apologised, she would struggle to forgive them.

The Sunday Star-Times contacted police but they indicated Symonds was on leave and no further comment was forthcoming.

Geoff Curley said a formal apology would be a start but he would still take the case to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

"I interviewed more people than the police did. I've got a bigger file on this than them."

Regardless, Geoff Curley said it was not about any sort of revenge, more making sure his son was remembered for who he really was.

"He was the nicest guy you'd ever meet, always doing something for someone else," he said.


What is a long-line launcher? It is a pneumatic cannon capable of firing things long distances and has been developed from more rudimentary devices like the potato cannon. The chemical process which takes place can fire a length of line hundreds of feet and has been used in naval rescues and tactical military operations. Larger versions have been popular with engineers and inventors in the US who test their skills in firing pumpkins great distances.

Sunday Star Times