Man tips off police about his impending death

UNDER PRESSURE: Science educator Dr Raymond Eric Mayes worked at Waikato Museum, but faced an increasing workload as cutbacks reduced staff numbers.
UNDER PRESSURE: Science educator Dr Raymond Eric Mayes worked at Waikato Museum, but faced an increasing workload as cutbacks reduced staff numbers.

A man who threw himself off a Hamilton bridge rang police minutes beforehand to report his death.

The circumstances around the death of Waikato Museum science educator Dr Raymond Eric Mayes were revealed in the Hamilton Coroner's Court yesterday.

The inquest heard Mayes had worked at the museum, operated by the Hamilton City Council, for 12 years before his death on Friday, June 21, 2013.

His wife, Julie, told Coroner Wallace Bain that the ever-increasing pressures from work were key factors in his death.

But the council denied there was a culture of bullying or Mayes had been bullied and says that none of the staff were aware he was feeling vulnerable.

Senior Constable Garry Paton told the inquest that police received a call from an unknown number at 2.10am on the day of Mayes' death from "a man saying that a body was under the bridge on Grantham St and that it was his body."

He then hung up.

Police found Mayes' body on the walkway directly underneath the bridge. He had parked his car on Grantham St before walking up the stairs of the bridge and climbing over the railings, plunging to his death. They also found his car keys and a suicide note in his pocket.

In a rare move, Coroner Bain lifted all suppression regarding Mayes' death.

Mayes' wife, Julie, was confused by the note he left, stating its contents were out of character.

In her evidence, she said her husband was initially hired to work in the Excite centre which operated separately to the Waikato Museum. However, it was eventually merged with the museum.

The council then made further restructures, with several positions being dissolved and key staff leaving or being made redundant. Some positions were not replaced. In the end her husband was operating by himself as the sole educator.

Mayes said the museum's new director, Cherie Meecham, had an abrupt manner and her husband felt "extreme pressure and frustration" with the working environment which had become "more toxic as time went by".

"Staff left faster than they could be replaced," she said.

Dr Stewart Wells, Mayes' GP, said his patient appeared to have been suffering severe depression, as a result of delusion or feelings of guilt from false beliefs in ideas.

Mark Hammond, the lawyer representing the Hamilton City Council, refuted any claims of bullying.

"Council denies, absolutely, any bullying or like behaviour towards Mr Mayes or any others and there's nothing before you to suggest Mr Mayes was bullied. He was treated with respect.

"There were no signs to those who worked closely with him and the environment was a close one and nobody saw any signs or indications that [Mayes] he was suffering any stress."

Hammond said Mayes was highly regarded by all staff.

"We don't accept that he was exposed to excessive stresses or his workload had increase. In fact the workload of the education team in first two terms [of 2013] was comparatively light."

However, he accepted that it appeared that Mayes was affected by the loss of some of his colleagues losing their jobs.

Council general manager of community, Lance Vervoort, told Coroner Bain that Meecham came in at a time when the restructure was already going to happen.

"The museum was going through change, it was a challenging situation for her. It's not unusual for employment to drop during a restructure. It's not unexpected."

However, counsel for the PSA, Gillian Spry, pointed out that the near 50 per cent drop in staff during the restructure was high.

Vervoort denied it hit crisis levels, rather it was "just a change process that you go through and adapt".

Spry also asked Vervoort whether he was aware that s museum staff were unhappy.

"I can only go on what I have heard, and I've only been there four years, but I have heard the museum had challenges at times for a whole bunch of reasons and that that some staff weren't happy but that's only an impression I had been given."

The inquest will finish today.

Waikato Times