Christchurch family waits 20 days for police to show up after alleged death threats from neighbour

The family says their neighbour intimidated them for weeks after an initial run-in.
The family says their neighbour intimidated them for weeks after an initial run-in. Photo credit: File / Supplied

A terrified Christchurch family who sought help from police after alleging a man had threatened to kill their mother and threw a can at her waited nearly three weeks for officers to show up on their doorstep amid escalating hostility.

The Northcote family, who asked to remain anonymous due to fears of retaliation, told Newshub they have been living in a state of fear since a run-in with a guest of one of their neighbours last month.

The mother say she's been scared to be outside, her children have been struggling to sleep and the animosity from their neighbour - in the form of intimidating graffiti, anti-social behaviour and things thrown at their house - has only intensified in the weeks since the incident.

Police did eventually visit the family earlier this week, 20 days on from the incident, and issued the neighbour with a warning and a trespass notice - a move the family hopes will settle simmering tensions.

Police told Newshub callouts are prioritised based on risk, and this incident was "correctly assessed as being lower risk". They also say the complainant expressed at the time  they were happy to wait and invited further discussion with the family directly.

But the couple says that doesn't excuse the delay, and have condemned police for failing to act promptly on an incident they believe could genuinely have eventuated in serious harm to them or their children.

The incident

The incident that resulted in the death threats occurred in late February. The neighbours were hosting a birthday party at their home when one of their guests came round to retrieve a ball that had landed in the family's backyard.

While handing the ball back, the man says he gave the guest "a polite warning" that his dog liked to chew balls and so anything that landed in his backyard may not get back to them in the same condition.

The guest was irked by the comment and in a verbal barrage told him to meet him on the street for a fight, the man told Newshub.

The pair started arguing and in the midst of their verbal stoush, the man alleges his neighbour's guest picked up a rock and told him he'd end his life. He says he backed down at this point as the neighbour's behaviour was becoming unpredictable.

But moments later, while he was engaged in conversation with his neighbour, he says the guest threw a can at his wife unprovoked. The can narrowly missed her but hit their house, bursting and covering her in bourbon.

Not long after that, the woman says she was checking her letterbox when the guest approached her, got right in her face and told her he'd kill her. He then repped Hell's Angels and walked away, she says.

As she stood there paralysed with fear, the woman's husband called 111 to report the incident. He was redirected to 105, police's non-emergency number, despite explaining there was an imminent threat of violence.

Police opened a file that night but never sent officers to the scene.

Escalating tensions

The following morning, the couple woke up to find the words 'PIG NARKS' spray-painted on the pavement just outside their driveway.

They sent photos of the graffiti to police then went to Papanui Police Station, where they were told no officers were available to help them. Annoyed by what they perceived as a lack of care from police, the couple then headed to Christchurch Central Station - but were again left disappointed.

"They basically blew us off. They took our statements and that's all that happened - then we just heard nothing."

The couple says this graffiti was left on their driveway the day after the initial incident.
The couple says this graffiti was left on their driveway the day after the initial incident. Photo credit: Supplied

Meanwhile tensions at home with their neighbour continued to escalate, they say.

In addition to the graffiti, the couple say they have had things thrown at their front door, been repeatedly forced to listen to their neighbour's loud music and revving engines, and had numerous beer bottles and other rubbish lobbed into their backyard.

The man told Newshub he believed the neighbour was trying to goad him into a reaction, but every time something happened he would just update police instead.

"I keep uploading files, keep in constant contact with [police] - there's been multiple calls and uploads," he said.

He said police reassured him an officer had been assigned to his case and encouraged him to provide them with evidence as it came to hand.

But more than a fortnight later, police still hadn't shown up at their door - and in the meantime the family says it's been a struggle to function as normal.

"Basically I just run to the letterbox and run back - I don't want to be outside any more than I need to," the woman told Newshub. "My son's got to go back to school - he's nearly seven and takes himself off to school. He's got to leave through the front gate. It's a pretty daunting prospect.

"If they're throwing shit at our doorstep, what's not to say that we're going to walk out the door one day and we're going to get met with a brick or something equally as deadly? What if it's one of us with our daughter?"

The man says the neighbour's disregard for their young children's safety has been the hardest part to take.

"My son is already freaking out… asking if the guy's got weapons on the property and if he's going to come over here and use them. It's definitely getting to him. He's not sleeping very well, and my daughter isn't sleeping very well either."

'If we can't count on them, who can we count on?'

This week, 20 days on from the initial incident, the police visited the family's home and took action.

After talking with the couple and looking at the evidence, the man said they issued a warning to the neighbour and trespassed them from the property. The couple also agreed to preemptively be trespassed from their neighbour's property, he said.

The couple isn't convinced the measures will work - and if anything believe the trespass notices could inflame the situation further - but are looking into installing security cameras to catch any further misbehaviour.

Police have defended the delay in their response.

They told Newshub calls for service are responded to according to priority and availability of units at the time.

"Calls are prioritised in terms of risk and those at greater risk will be attended as soon as possible," a spokesperson said.

"Some calls for service are of a lower risk and are attended later. This incident was correctly assessed as being lower risk. Police spoke with the informant and explained [the] delay and the informant expressed at the time that they were happy with the outcome."

Police say if the informant would like to have a further discussion directly, they are happy to do so.

"We aim to deliver the best service possible to ensure our communities are safe and feel safe."

But the couple says they're upset it's taken as long as it has to get police to see what's been happening for themselves.

"Is a human life so insignificant to the New Zealand Police that they'd take so long to respond? Let alone a female that's got kids?" the man asks.

His wife agrees.

"What is the course of action that they're going to take when it comes to getting off their bum - loss of life? Is that what it's come to?" she asks.

"I get they're busy, I get they're understaffed. [But] that's not my fault, that's not my husband's fault - that's a 'them' problem. This is where it comes down to what your priorities are. You need to take threats of life seriously."

She points out that if she threatened the life of a police officer, she'd be dealt with promptly and forcefully, and asks why the same response can't be expected for civilians like her.

"Us as citizens rely on them to be able to do that for us. But if we can't count on them, who can we count on?"