P-lab scare clears upmarket complex

PAUL EASTON, BEN HEATHER
Last updated 08:32 08/03/2014

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Wellington

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The drama began with police banging on the door of an upmarket apartment in the early hours on the morning.

There was a suspected methamphetamine lab on the 13th floor, they told the building manager, and everybody had to leave.

Residents of the Chews Lane complex streamed out on to the streets of downtown Wellington, some still in their dressing gowns, as more than 30 police cordoned off the surrounding area.

Elderly resident Betty van Praag said she and husband Jim were called by their property manager early in the morning and asked to leave the building.

She was shocked "and a little bit angry" to find the reason was a suspected P lab. "I think it's atrocious - to think you might see someone in the lift and say hello, and they are P-lab people. I've never heard of such a thing."

In Victoria St, just metres from the police station, a decontamination tent was set up, and a dozen people were washed down after suspected contact with chemicals.

Building manager Justin Leonard, who lives in an apartment on the eighth floor, was woken by police banging on his door. He had been told earlier that officers would be "in and out" quickly, and was not prepared for a full- scale evacuation.

"I think the police thought they [the occupants of the raided flat] were just selling," he said.

Coffee Club manager Chantal Clarke arrived just after 6.30am and watched as police began clearing buildings.

"They started evacuating people from the apartments, all of those poor old women waiting outside - it was like a pyjama party on Willis St."

Most residents were able to return to their homes by 8.30am, but those on the 13th floor - including TV rugby commentator Keith Quinn - had to wait until late in the afternoon.

Nobody who spoke to The Dominion Post suspected anything untoward was occurring in apartment 13D, whose tenants were described as "polite and friendly".

Bob Peffers lives just down the corridor from the raided apartment, which was still being guarded by an armed police officer last night.

He said it was "huge shock" to learn that a drug operation was allegedly operating just a few doors down. "We had no idea anything like that was going on.

"It's mostly professional people in these apartments . . . I guess you always associate P labs with inner-city deprived areas."

Another resident, Labour MP Moana Mackey, said the evacuation was an "unusual start to the day". "It just goes to show that drugs are everywhere and we all have to be vigilant."

According to the Wellington City Council, this is the first time a suspected meth lab has been found in a central city apartment.

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And Chews Lane seemed an unlikely choice. Sitting right opposite the city's main police station, the award-winning development is home to a clutch of wealthy and notable residents.

It has some of the priciest apartments in the city, with one selling for more than $4 million recently. Even some weekly rents for less-glamorous apartments are more than $1100.

As of yesterday, there were two properties for sale, one a three- bedroom penthouse with an asking price of more than $1.2m. Leaders Real Estate agent Andrew Brodie is selling one, and said it was too early to comment on whether yesterday's discovery would disrupt the sales.

He said Chews Lane was extremely popular, and Leaders alone had sold $5.1m of property there this year.

"But it's not a good look, especially in Chews Lane, which has such a brilliant reputation."

Mr Leonard said the possible impact on property values "was at the back of people's mind".

The council said if the presence of a drug lab was confirmed, it would have to be noted on the property's Lim report.

- The Dominion Post

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