Police 'obscene' in Christchurch looter case

The police's handling of a man with Asperger's syndrome caught looting after the Christchurch earthquake has been described as "cruel and obscene" by people calling for the case to be dropped.

Both the police and justice ministers' offices were flooded with emails after current affairs show Sunday ran a programme about Cornelius Arie Smith-Voorkamp last month.

Despite being asked three times by the courts, police have denied Smith-Voorkamp diversion, which allows first offenders to escape a criminal conviction.

Police said an offender had to admit guilt before they could get diversion, and Smith-Voorkamp has pleaded not guilty.

Smith-Voorkamp was arrested for allegedly taking light fittings from a damaged Lincoln Rd property, and possession of tools for burglary, after the February 22 quake.

The 25-year-old has said he had been obsessed with light fittings for most of his life and could not resist his urges, which were fuelled by his Asperger's syndrome.

"It just drives me bonkers. I've seen it all the time and it just plays in my mind. Sometimes I get so excited about it I can't sleep."

Smith-Voorkamp was arrested and held in police custody for 11 days.

While he awaits his trial later this year, dozens of people have written to the ministers calling the handling of the case a "travesty of justice" and urging for it to be dropped.

The emails described police's handling of the case as "madness" and "cruel" and many questioned what training police were given when dealing with people with disabilities or mental health issues.

Many of the emails were from concerned parents and grandparents of people with autism or Asperger's.

"I can assure you that many, many parents of autistic children and young adults were in tears watching the programme in sheer frustration of the lack of understanding and respect," a grandmother of a girl with the syndrome and stepmother of a policeman wrote to Police Minister Judith Collins.

"Arie didn't take the light bulbs for monetary gain but solely as a result of his obsessional behaviours."

Another person wrote: "His case should never have gotten to the courts ... the fact that it has got this far raises serious questions about the ability, judgment and priorities of all police involved.

"It makes me feel quite sick knowing what this poor fellow has been put through. Also [it] is a complete waste of resources."

Ms Collins received 29 emails regarding Smith-Voorkamp, and 19 emails were sent to Justice Minister Simon Power.

Ms Collins said she could not get involved in any individual cases and had sought advice from police on the case.

"It's a normal kind of a thing, where there is a high-profile matter they might send me through a briefing to let me know what's happened," she said.

She met disabilities minister Tariana Turia in March after Mrs Turia expressed her concern over the case and also met Autism New Zealand chief executive Alison Molloy in April.

Ms Molloy said earlier this year that the criminal justice and state support system was not equipped to meet the needs of people with Asperger's Syndrome and other forms of autism spectrum disorder.

Police spokesman Grant Ogilvie said police had "extensive experience" in dealing with people with mental health issues or who had an intellectual impairment.

Stuff