Aisling Symes' family thanks supporters

BY MICHAEL FOX AND DAVID GADD
Last updated 16:21 13/10/2009
Aisling Symes map

SCENE OF A TRAGEDY: Where the body of toddler Aisling Symes was found.

Symes family statment

Footage of the drain at 5 Longburn Rd

Police briefing: Body is Aisling

TRIBUTE: A boy lays a bouquet amid flowers and toys left outside the property which had belonged to the Symes family.
LAWRENCE SMITH Zoom
TRIBUTE: A boy lays a bouquet amid flowers and toys left outside the property which had belonged to the Symes family.

Audio: Symes family statement

GROUND SEARCH: Police search near the property where Aisling was last seen.
LAWRENCE SMITH
GROUND SEARCH: Police search near the property where Aisling was last seen.

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Waitakere City Council says it was looking at ways of fixing a flooding drain before Aisling Symes died in it as an autopsy confirmed the two-year-old, whose body was found last night, had drowned.

Inspector Gary Davey, Waitakere Area Police Commander, said he was unable to comment on the specific details of the autopsy but there was no evidence of injury.

Aisling's body has been released to her family and the two-year-old's death has been referred to the coroner.

Police revealed at a press conference today that the 20kg lid on the manhole on the drain was 8-10cm ajar when police arrived on the scene the day she disappeared.

Inspector Gary Davey said they looked down the drain twice the day Aisling disappeared and sent cameras down the next day.

He said police decided yesterday to dig the drain up due to blockages and they found Aisling 36m from the manhole and 1.5m underground.

Sonya Carrington, who had lived at a property adjoining that which Aisling was found, said she moved across the road earlier this year after watching the manhole cover blown off by water during periods of heavy rain.

"We called the council and some councillors and it has been looked at, but it's never been fixed yet."

Waitakere City Council spokesman Wally Thomas said there had been four complaints about the drain and the manhole in five years.

He said the drain was cleared in 2004 and 2007 and council staff had examined the complaint before Ms Baker's, a September 11 complaint, five days later.

"That was when we found tree roots," Mr Thomas said.

"We were in the process of looking at how to deal with that when this tragedy occurred."

Aisling Symes' uncle David Ball has thanked the many people who have extended gestures of support to the family since the toddler's disappearance.

"No words can describe Angela and Alan's pain and anguish, this past week has been a traumatic ordeal for us all, " Alan Symes' cousin Wymond Symes said.

The pair thanked police for their work which they described as resolute, and said the compassion and support given to the family had highlighted their faith in humanity.

The family said finding Aisling's body had bought some closure to their harrowing ordeal.

"The loss of Aisling is unbearable. We have however some sense of resolution in that Aisling has been found. It's hard to imagine life without her, without her infectious smile and bubbly nature."

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"Even though we grieve for our loss, our hearts go out to the parents and extended families of children in New Zealand and elsewhere that are still missing."

The family said it was too soon to say when the funeral would be held.

Inspector Davey said the police team remain in close contact with Aisling's family who have appreciated the many messages and gestures of support and sympathy expressed from the public.

Police expect to complete this afternoon a detailed scene examination of the drainpipe where Aisling was found.

Inspector Davey thanked the public for their caring response and support.

"The messages, flowers and other tributes have been arriving at Henderson Police Station throughout the day for the family and for our staff."

DRAIN COMPLAINTS

An investigation into why a manhole was left open in the drain where Aisling died is needed says a long serving Waitakere politician.

Police this morning revealed a man hole cover in the drain where the two year old met her death was partially open the night she disappeared.

The council has confirmed a complaint about the manhole was received 24 days before Aisling went missing.

"The council should conduct its own internal investigation," says long serving Waitakere councillor Assid Corban who represents the Henderson ward - the area of West Auckland in which Aisling lived and died.

"In these circumstances it is important that the officers now report back as to the responsibility of the council and whether or not there was any reason why the council should be at fault in anyway at all," Mr Corban said.

"It would concern me if there were complaints and no one took it up, that would really concern me."

He said he was not aware of complaints about the drain, but issues like that were the responsibility of council staff rather than the councillors.

A family who lived next to the property where Aisling was found say they moved out due to concerns about a d

Ms Carrington had filmed how the drain reacted in times of heavy rain and the footage showed water rushing from the drain, under a garage and toward the creek at the back of Longburn Rd properties.

One current tenant of the house Ms Carrington once lived in, Janice Neho, told NZPA the drain was "dodgy".

HOW DID AISLING GET INTO DRAIN?

Inspector Davey said part of the police inquiry would be to establish how Aisling got into the drain.

She was found 36 metres away from a manhole into the drain and 1.5m underground. Concrete cutters and a digger were required to open the drain up and retrieve the body.

He said a manhole into the drain was seen to be 8 to 10 centimetres ajar on the night Aisling went missing.

However he said: "I'm sure we would not have been able to save her on the night."

He said it had been raining that night with water sluicing down the drain.

"It would have been impossible for her to turn around if she was crawling."

DRAINPIPE SEARCHES

The drainpipe where the body was found was searched up to five times before her body was discovered.

A police officer searched it twice on the night, including climbing two metres down into the drain and shining a torch up and down the drain, calling Aisling's name with no response. The officer estimated he could see five metres either direction, Mr Davey said.

Alan Symes, father of Aisling, also looked in the drain that night, and it was understood search and rescue staff searched the drain.

Later, Waitakere city council staff searched both ends of the drain with cameras but did not find Aisling.

Mr Davey said the manhole cover was about 600mm wide and weighed about 20kg, something well beyond the capacity of a child to move.

He defended the searches, saying: "I am confident that police did everything they could that night to find her in that drain with the resources that they had."

Police later contacted Watercare Services to further search the drain, this time with cameras. Both ends of the drain were searched. Even then, police were unable to locate Aisling.

He said police "always reviewed what we had done, when and whether it needed to be done again."

Mr Davey said when police were told by Watercare that this drain had a history of blockages and with no leads around a possible abduction, they decided they needed a further examination of the drain.

"For me personally it was the fact that all lines of inquiry were not leading us anywhere positive," he said of the decision to return to examining the drain.

"It was really coming up with nothing really solid that was causing us concerns and to go back and reassess."

A digger was needed and it took five hours to access the drain and fire services with concrete cutters. Only then, said Mr Davey "were we able to see Aisling."

FAMILY THANKS SUPPORTERS

Aisling'S uncle David Ball has thanked the many people who have extended gestures of support.

"No words can describe Angela and Alan's pain and anguish, this past week has been a traumatic ordeal for us all, " Alan Symes' cousin Wymond Symes said.

"The loss of Aisling is unbearable. We have however some sense of resolution in that Aisling has been found. It's hard to imagine life without her, without her infectious smile and bubbly nature."

The family said it was too soon to say when the funeral would be held.

"Our priority remains on supporting each other.  The days ahead will be difficult and we thank you for your continued love and support."

Wellwishers this morning offered unspoken support to the devastated family.

Flowers stuffed toys and candles were placed outside the property which was owned by the Symes family.

The family earlier said they were devastated at the death of the toddler, but say there is some small comfort that her body has been found.

The family posted their remarks on a Facebook page set up while two-year-old Aisling was missing.

"I am extremely devastated to have to report to you that Aisling's body has been found in a drain near where she went missing," the message said.

They asked members of the public to pray for the family as "this is going to be the hardest time of our lives and we will need all the prayers we can get".

"If even the smallest positive can come from this at least we know we did all we could, it was a national effort, and thank you all for that, it did bring us together as a country, and proved at least that we are a nation full of caring and compassionate people, who genuinely want to help those in need, thank you all for that."

"Also, there is slight comfort in knowing that she is safe in heaven, and being held and looked after by God himself," the family said.

The Facebook page, called Find Aisling Symes, had by this morning more than 21,000 members.

More than 2000 people had placed messages of support for the family.

The family's church pastor Russell Watts said the family needed space to grieve.

It was a "very, very caring, extended family who are all very upset," he told Radio New Zealand.

He said everybody had shown the family exceptional support but now they needed a bit of space.

Messages of support and sympathy and gifts for the family could be dropped at the Ranui Baptist Church to be taken to the family.

In Henderson today police stood guard on the Pomaria Rd house where the body was found.

They were kept supplied with hot drinks by local residents and candles burned outside the property throughout the night.

Last night several hundred people gathered in Pomaria Rd, mostly quietly reflecting and offering unspoken support for the family.

The discovery of the body was announced last night by a visibly upset inquiry head, Inspector Gary Davey, the man in charge of the week long search for Aisling.

He said it was with "tremendous sorrow" that he was announcing the discovery of the body.

At one stage at the hastily called media conference last night, he stopped to gather his emotions before he continued.

The news of the disappearance of the little girl, described as a bright and bubbly toddler, has attracted world interest.

Aisling's father is from Ireland and the Irish news media has followed the case closely.

MYSTERY DEVELOPS

MONDAY: Aisling Symes, 2, is  out of sight of mother Angela  for just moments. She was last  seen at 5.30pm with an Asian  woman. Police begin a search.

TUESDAY: Fears grow, with Aisling believed to have spent the night in the open during a storm. About 100 searchers trawl nearby waterways.

WEDNESDAY: Police make first acknowledgment they now believe it is a case of abduction. But the search of water and properties continues.

THURSDAY:
Alan and Angela Symes make an emotional appeal to the suspected abductor.

FRIDAY: Police make another appeal, asking the abductor to take Aisling to a hospital.

SATURDAY: Police say they have no leads. Madeleine McCann's parents offer their sympathy.

SUNDAY: Inspector Gary Davey makes a personal appeal for anyone with information to call him.

YESTERDAY: Police swarm to a property backing on to the home from which Aisling disappeared. A body is found in a drain. Aisling's family confirms it is their child's body.

- with NZPA

- © Fairfax NZ News

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