Thefts from demolition sites alleged

Police are dealing with complaints of demolition firms taking goods from earthquake-damaged central Christchurch businesses.

Canterbury area commander Superintendent Dave Cliff said yesterday police had been contacted about property being stolen. He would not talk about specific cases.

"It's not a very large number of issues I'm aware of."

Cliff said it was illegal for demolition companies to take goods from demolished buildings.

"The accredited demolition companies have no rights to charge to salvage property from the buildings they are working on," he said.

"Firms being employed to demolish cannot take property and retain it. It belongs to the owner."

Cliff said Civil Defence had given assurances that goods taken from buildings would be returned to the owners or tenants.

An inner-city business owner said yesterday he had seen demolition companies take native timber from his demolished building, believed to be in Lichfield St.

"The issue here is that there is a wholesale mandate for looting to go on for contractors. Material has been taken and, had we not been there and seen what happens, then this would have gone on unbeknownst to us," he told Radio New Zealand.

Southern Demolition director Alan Edge said his company was not involved with the Lichfield St site where the incident allegedly occurred.

He said there was a Civil Defence inquiry at the site yesterday.

He understood the timber had been moved "because it was too big to go the dump".

Edge said his staff were aware of the consequences of removing items from demolition sites.

Civil Defence national controller Steve Brazier said Civil Defence had not been able to inspect demolition crews' trucks as they left the city.

Officials had put a stop to demolition this week, but before the moratorium, items may have been taken.

He said owners would now be able to watch the demolition of their buildings.

Cliff said police were able to use closed-circuit television footage and make use of forensic evidence in the city in their investigations.

"We have our methods and we are keeping an eye on the central city, both remotely and with staff on the ground," he said.

Civil Defence Minister John Carter urged anyone with complaints about demolition companies taking property to contact Civil Defence or the police.

He said some "urban myths" had taken root in Christchurch.

-The Press with NZPA