Auckland's big stories in 2012

Last updated 05:00 31/12/2012

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KIM DOTCOM

A year ago Kim Dotcom was an online identity, but most Aucklanders would never have heard of him. In January, armed police descended from a helicopter onto the lawns of his Coatesville mansion and took him into custody.

The Megaupload founder was labelled an internet pirate, dragged before the courts and accused of ripping off Hollywood to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Dotcom should never have won any popularity contests here. He was a mega-rich foreigner who flaunted his wealth with a fleet of luxury cars and oversees trips aboard luxury yachts like a teenager who had won Lotto. But over the past 11 months he's won us over one tweet at a time while dismantling the case against him by bringing our top spies and police before the courts.

With each victory the jolly German's public profile and celebrity has grown. This Christmas he flicked the switch on the Franklin Rd lights and played Santa in The Basement Theatre show, MegaChristmas.

Where to in 2013? If the US has its way he'll be extradited there following a hearing set down for August. Regardless, we haven't heard the last from Dotcom, he's already attempting to relaunch his file sharing website across the world.

TRANSPORT

Getting Auckland moving has been a hot topic this year - we all love to moan about our roads, rail and how long it takes us to get anywhere.

Mayor Len Brown, in his quest to make Auckland one of the most liveable cities, has made a big play at unclogging roads and getting a city rail link back on track despite the Government repeatedly trying to quash his grand plan. Billions have been committed to roading projects and the jewel in the crown - the $340m Victoria Park Tunnel - was completed. The three lanes opened in March, and in October when the Wellington St on-ramp finally reopened, Aucklanders could appreciate the difference it made to commuter times to and from the North Shore.

In July, Auckland Council revealed the route its proposed city rail link would take. The council plans to buy 210 properties to complete the $2.86b project which will consist of 3.5km long, twin tunnels being built 45 metres below the city centre. But like the Government, Aucklanders aren't convinced, not least because they may yet have to fund it through petrol and other user-pays taxes. 

MURDER

Murder mysteries were big news in 2012, with an almost 20-year cold case being re-opened, a headless skeleton finally being identified and yet another sad story of a woman going missing for months before being found dead.

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The case of Rae Portman gripped Aucklanders, not least because it had haunting similarities to the Carmen Thomas murder which reached its conclusion in the courts in March this year when her former partner, Brad Callaghan was jailed for more than 13 years.

Portman, who was involved in the drug trade, was last seen on June 20 at a motel in Mt Albert, which she never checked out of. On July 2, her family reported her missing and slowly police closed in on those involved in her disappearance. In September, Portman's mother Rebecca Norton heartbreakingly revealed her daughter was four months pregnant and soon after, police found the 33-year-old's body at the back of a rural Ardmore property. Paraire Te Awa, 32, has been charged with her murder.

In May, a much older missing person case resurfaced when a woman walking her dog at Port Waikato uncovered the remains of Jane Furlong. The teenager had gone missing, presumed murdered, in 1993. Police continue to hunt her killer.

And in June police finally identified a headless skeleton - found in a Mt Wellington garage in September 2011 - as Javed Mills. He had died in 2009. James Cooper has pleaded not guilty to his murder but has admitted perverting the course of justice by fooling Mills' family into believing he was still alive.   

ROYAL VISIT

It wasn't quite the visit from Kate and Wills that many New Zealanders had been hoping for, but a visit by Prince Charles and Camilla still captivated Aucklanders - including anti-royal Castislav Sam Bracanov, who was allegedly planning to throw horse manure at the royal couple.

Despite the unpleasant plan, the royals were warmly received by Aucklanders and managed to see plenty of the city during their brief stay. They strolled down Queen St, visited the Devonport Naval Base and Whenuapai Airforce Base and enjoyed a cocktail night at Sky City. Charles said he was delighted to be back in the country, this time with wife Camilla. "She is already engaged in a crash-course in all things Kiwi,'' he said.

You're welcome back anytime, Charlie.

FREAK SHOOTING

A homekill shooting in Kumeu almost ended in tragedy when a bullet ricocheted off a beast's head and ripped through the chest of the slaughterman's teenage assistant. Simon Alex, 18, had to be revived twice in a series of dramatic emergency procedures that required 20 litres of blood to be pumped through his body. Typically the body contains five.

The shooter, Bruce Scott, was charged with careless use of a firearm and had hoped to be discharged without conviction so he could fulfil a dream of representing New Zealand as an Olympic shooter. The court denied this and last month Scott was convicted and ordered to pay Alex $3000.

While Alex had originally supported his boss, first with an affidavit and then by returning to his side at work, the two have now gone their separate ways. Scott, who is also a double world champion in archery, now plans to return to that sport. 

HARBOUR TRAGEDY

It was meant to be a fun-filled family outing on Labour weekend. A dad loaded up his new boat with his four young children and headed out onto the Manukau Harbour. But he didn't take lifejackets, and when the boat flipped, So'saia Paasi, 45, and his son Tio, seven, drowned. Had it not been for the brave efforts of bystanders, Passi's other three children may have died also.

The deaths were the latest in a spate of preventable drownings involving Pacific Islanders who hadn't heeded water safety warnings. In the past five years, 46 Pacific Islanders have drowned in New Zealand waters. The boating accident renewed calls for Pacific Islanders to be better educated about water safety and New Zealand conditions, which differ greatly from the placid island waters of their homelands. ACC, the Coastguard, Maritime New Zealand and local Pacific Island leaders and church groups have now banded together to help ensure the message gets through.

PROTESTS

A year of protest and strikes started with the drawn-out action at the Ports of Auckland after negotiations broke down over collective contract agreements. In March, the company moved to make striking workers redundant which further soured the dispute. Auckland lost work to the Ports of Tauranga and Employment Relations Authority hearings began. In December the company was fined $40,000 for deliberately breaking the law and employing contractors during the industrial dispute.

Protests of a different kind have kicked off almost weekly in Glen Innes for the past six months as residents battle Housing New Zealand's plans to redevelop the area and relocate families. Protesters have repeatedly clashed with police, resulting in dozens of arrests and claims of police brutality. Among those charged was veteran activist John Minto and Mana Party leader Hone Harawira.

Student protests in the central city have also got out of control. After the Blockade the Budget campaign, finance Minister Bill English said students needed some ''Greeks to show them how to do it'', which led to students causing mayhem near the university and 43 people being arrested.

In September, seven protesters were arrested when they chained themselves to the Ministry of Social Development headquarters.

SUPER BROTHEL

The super-city will soon have its own super brothel now John and Michael Chow's plans to build a 15-storey brothel in downtown Auckland have been approved. The developers' plans for the Penthouse Club on Victoria St were controversial from the start, not least because the site used to house the historic Palace Hotel, which was damaged and then demolished under their care.

In April, Auckland Council asked for public opinion on the proposal and received 220 objections. A hearing took place in November where again moral objections  were voiced, but ultimately deemed irrelevant, because prostitution is legal.

The Penthouse Club will feature a ground level bar and restaurant. A first-floor mezzanine will host a brothel and another restaurant and bar. A strip club will occupy the first and second floors. A larger brothel will be on the third floor. Hotel accommodation will be on the fourth to eighth floors. Levels nine and 10 will be offices and the top two levels a rooftop bar.

CHRISTIE'S LAW

The death of teenager Christie Marceau ignited nationwide debate on bail laws as her grieving parents, Tracey and Brian, fought to change bail laws - Christie's Law - to keep those accused of crimes away from other potential victims, especially those they had allegedly attacked.

Christie was stabbed to death at her North Shore home in November 2011 by Akshay Chand, who was already on bail for earlier trying to kidnap and assault Christie. In October, Chand was found not guilty by reason of insanity of her murder and sent to a psychiatric hospital indefinitely.

Throughout the year, the Marceau famil have been on a crusade to tighten bail laws and say they will continue to try to hold judges to account. In August Tracey Marceau made a plea for tighter bail laws to a government select committee and in November the family launched the Christie Marceau Charitable Trust.

TORNADO

It started with severe weather warnings of storms destined to strike Auckland around midday on December 6, but by mid-afternoon winds howling at more than 100kmh flattened trees, tore roofs off houses and scattered debris across Hobsonville and beyond.

Tom Stowers, 42, Keith Langford, 60, and Brendon Johnson, 22 were crushed to death by a concrete slab while at the Hobsonville High School construction site. The wild storm destroyed 22 houses, forced 230 people to take shelter at the Whenuapai Air Force base and damaged an estimated $13 million worth of property.  

- Auckland Now

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