Children's food kept with meth equipment

JOELLE DALLY AND ANNE CLARKSON
Last updated 05:00 05/02/2014

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Police who discovered two children living in a Christchurch drugs-lab house found chemicals so hazardous they could spend only moments inside.

The boy and girl, aged 12 and 13 at the time, had signs of chemical exposure, rashes, skin lesions and methamphetamine residue in their hair.

The kitchen was set up like a commercial kitchen, and the food the family was eating was in the same cupboards as the beakers and pots used for methamphetamine.

The children's mother, 32, was jailed for two years and nine months yesterday on charges of permitting the Linwood house to be used for methamphetamine production and two charges of neglecting her children by exposing them to danger from the drug-lab.

She was granted name suppression to protect the identity of the children, who are now in the care of a relative and Child Youth and Family.

The case has appalled Police Minister Anne Tolley, who said methamphetamine "has no place in our communities".

Latest statistics held by her office showed 26 New Zealand children were found living in P-labs in 2011 and 28 in 2012.

"It destroys lives and families. Any case where children have been exposed to this horrible drug is shocking and just heartbreaking," she said.

Police raided the Linwood home in 2012. Detective Oliver Rose, the officer in charge of the case, said the smell of toxic chemicals was "overwhelming". The boy and girl were home at the time.

It was "always shocking" to find children living in such an environment, but keeping drug equipment next to food in kitchen cupboards was "about as bad as it gets", Rose said.

Toxic vapours and fumes could fill a house. The smell in this particular home was so unpleasant officers effectively "got in and got out".

It was a sad reality that children were living in similar situations across New Zealand, Rose said. "It shouldn't happen, but it does."

The woman's children were doing better now they were out of that environment.

At the sentencing, Judge Jane Farish said the mother's offending had been "a self-serving, selfish act" and she had failed her children "abysmally".

She had put them at risk of death or serious chemical burns. The effects of the methamphetamine could cause chronic disease and behavioural development problems, some of which the children had, she said.

The woman's son was found with significant skin lesions. Her daughter was "seriously disturbed" and it was not all due to methamphetamine.

She was now settled and stabilised, and the woman should do nothing to upset that, Farish said.

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Defence counsel Mark Callaghan said the woman was no longer a drug user and she had taken steps to be rehabilitated. She had lost custody of her children, although she still had contact with them.

CYF operations manager Marion Heeney said children's safety was the agency's "top priority".

As well as health matters, children living in homes where methamphetamine was manufactured were at risk of neglect and isolation from the wider community.

At the same sentencing yesterday, a 25-year-old man was sentenced to seven years four months' prison with a non-parole period of three years four months for using the woman's home to manufacture methamphetamine, setting up another kitchen for manufacture and possession of equipment and utensils.

He was also sentenced on charges of assault, threatening to kill and receiving.

- The Press

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