Undie 500 'history' - Mayor

Last updated 00:00 27/08/2007
ANDREW MACKAY/Keaphotos
COUNTING THE COST: Undie 500 could be history after drunken students rioted in Dunedin over the weekend. Police made 69 arrests.

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Student riots could mean the end of the annual Undie 500 car rally from Christchurch to Dunedin.
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Police arrested 69 people in North Dunedin on Saturday, 24 of whom were University of Canterbury students.

The student district erupted into violence on Saturday night, with hundreds of drunken youngsters lighting fires and pelting police and firefighters with bottles.

Firefighters extinguished more than 70 fires after students set alight cars, couches and mattresses on Castle, Dundas, Hyde, Grange, and Leith streets.

Thirty Dunedin students and 15 non-students were also arrested.

About 150 decorated cars from the Canterbury University engineering students' society, Ensoc, had driven to Dunedin for the annual Undie 500 tour.

Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin said that as far as he was concerned, the event was "history".

"Not for a year or so – for ever," he said.

After touring the student district yesterday morning, Chin described the streets carpeted with broken bottles and "the hulks of cars that have been overturned and burned" as "depressing" and "disgraceful".

"I think all the students should feel ashamed," he said.

Canterbury University Vice Chancellor Roy Sharp said this year's event seemed to have been a "watershed".

"This is a student-organised function, so I think it's up to them, really. But we might talk to them. We'll certainly investigate."

Senior Sergeant Gavin Briggs said the trouble started just before dark, when students who had been drinking all day started to become very drunk.

"Around 5pm, some of the students started a big fire on Castle Street."

Firefighters attempting to extinguish the fire were pelted with bottles and at 6.15pm, students started "smashing up" an Undie 500 vehicle, he said.

A group of Undie 500 participants from Waikato University said they returned from the bottle store to find their van had been burnt out.

One of the group, James, said they had lost possessions left in the vehicle and would have to hitch-hike back to Hamilton.

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"I was pretty surprised at how ruthless it did get down here, but I wasn't really surprised that (the van) did get burnt, considering all the other fires that were going on around the place.

"I never thought it would be as chaotic as it was. It was pretty out-of-control."

Briggs said the number of partygoers on the street "seemed to swell", forcing police to call in reinforcements from all over Dunedin.

"Bottles weren't just being lobbed. They were absolutely, 100 per cent, aiming at police with intent."

Some students were throwing bottles from the roofs of their flats, but one witness, Amy Joseph, 24, denied students were trying to hit police.

"Heaps of people were throwing bottles at the cops from the front of the student mass – heaps of bottles.

"(But) I don't think they were aiming at the police officers as such, just in the direction of them."

Joseph agreed students had "acted like a bunch of mob idiots", but said reports of thousands of drunken students rioting were "a bit of an exaggeration".

Briggs said it took until after 11pm to control the crowd and extinguish the numerous fires.

"They had no respect for anybody's property. One of the fires was lit within two or three metres of their front door."

Joseph said one house had gone "dangerously close to catching on fire".

"There was a big four-couch fire in a front yard and all the bushes between that house and the next house caught on fire.

"It was getting really close to the house itself when the fire trucks came through."

Inspector Alastair Dickie, of the Dunedin police, said police wanted an end to the Undie 500.

University of Canterbury Students' Association president Belinda Bundy said the event was more a reflection on the people involved than on Ensoc or the students' association, which both tried to ensure good behaviour.

Ensoc had to "look very closely" at whether the event should continue, she said.

In Christchurch today, Ensoc president William Corke told NZPA today he was "incredibly disappointed" that an event planned over the last 10 months had been tarnished by "idiots".

Ensoc would take all measures possibly "to crucify those people (responsible for the rioting) and make sure everybody knows those idiots ruined it," he said.

Mr Corke said many Canterbury students had already left Dunedin to return to Christchurch before the rioting on Saturday night.

He said Ensoc had never organised any official events other than the Undie 500 - where students buy and decorate vehicles for under $500 and join a convoy south - and what happened on Saturday night, while involving some Canterbury students, was not sanctioned by organisers.

"Realistically there are so many people down there, there's nothing to do and people get up to mischief," Mr Corke said.

- With NZPA

- © Fairfax NZ News

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