Key's pad proves a security headache

01:43, Jan 31 2009
John Key's Auckland home.

THE SWANKY Auckland mansion of Prime Minister-elect John Key is giving the Diplomatic Protection Squad security headaches because it is so big, and a dwelling may have to be built on his grounds to give the bodyguards a permanent home.

Protection squad staff are always outside when a prime minister is home. DPS staff rented a house beside Helen Clark's Mt Eden villa during her reign, but that's not really an option in Key's well-heeled neighbourhood. His $7 million luxury Parnell house, which features a pool, tennis court, spa, marble floors and seven living areas, sprawls over half an acre, meaning DPS staff are a long way from him if they are stationed outside the gate. And his neighbours are not keen to vacate their homes.

So while the protection squad figures out how best to protect the new prime minister, they are holed up in a camper van in Key's driveway.

Key, who built a personal fortune estimated at $50 million from his money trading career, had eight DPS officers around him on election night and three officers followed his every move last week, although there is not believed to be any specific threat to his safety.

But there has already been one security breach at Key's house last year burglars scaled the 2m fence around the home, smashed a ground-level window and made off with jewellery belonging to Key's wife, Bronagh, and two of his watches.

Key has said he will spend Monday to Thursday in Wellington and weekends at the Parnell property, having decided against living at Premier House, the Victorian era home that is the prime minister's Wellington residence.

Advertisement

On Friday when the Sunday Star-Times rang the buzzer at Key's gate, an armed officer emerged from the camper van. Asked how long they would have to use the van as headquarters, he said: "I don't think we will be staying here forever."

 

But the DPS will have trouble finding cheap rent in Key's exclusive neighbourhood. A four-bedroom home a few doors down from Key is going for $1100 a week, which would cost the taxpayer more than $57,000 a year.

Immediate neighbours are unlikely to want to move out. One, a wealthy Auckland businessman who owns several other homes nearby, is having a swimming pool installed and a builder at the property said: "They're not going to get him out of here, he's not having this pool put in for them [the DPS]."

That leaves the possibility of erecting an outbuilding on Key's property, which is actually three properties combined and covers 2340m2 (more than half an acre). The only outbuilding at present is a pool house.

One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: "I think they should build something, they're such a nice family and they shouldn't be put at risk, they must be protected at all costs.

"It's such a beautiful area, we wouldn't want anything going wrong around here."

A source close to the DPS said erecting a dwelling was one option, but the squad's commander, Inspector Terry O'Neill, would not be drawn on the idea: "I can't confirm at this stage what the final solution will be in relation to security on Mr Key's property."

O'Neill said the DPS was still planning security arrangements for Key and he expected the heavy security presence to "settle down" once the transition between governments was complete.

Clark had a low-key approach to security, preferring to let the DPS ride in a separate car.

The owner of the home used by the DPS to protect Clark, Minvydas Palubinskas, said the squad cancelled the lease when Clark lost the election and would be moving out soon. He said police paid the "going rate" in rent but would not give the exact figure. With only two bedrooms, the house was unlikely to have fetched more than about $450 a week.

A plainclothes officer at the house on Friday joked that he might be moving to "a nicer neighbourhood" now that Key had the top job.

A spokesman for Key, Kevin Taylor, said they would not be discussing his security.

Sunday Star Times