30 Jul 2020

'I was panicking' - mother explains escape from isolation

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 30 July 2020

A mother who has admitted escaping managed isolation with her four children says she was left with no other option.

The family returned from Australia after the children's father died unexpectedly from a stroke.

Four members of the family have pleaded guilty to charges after climbing over a wall at their isolation hotel in Hamilton.

The mother said she and her children had watched the father take his last breath via video link in Brisbane and then travelled to Auckland the next day.

The mother, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, told Checkpoint she had applied for an exemption, but it felt like time was running out as that was denied and she was applying a second time.

While they were in managed isolation in Hamilton, a plan had been put in place so that the dad's body would be brought to a facility five minutes along the road, the mother said. The Defence Force and the isolation management team were supporting the family's visit to inspect the body.

The tangi was due to be held in Auckland at 10am the next day.

They expected an answer at 4pm, then 5pm and were still waiting at 6pm when she spoke to her family in Auckland.

"We don't move the body at night-time. Uplifting their father's body is quite distressing to the family and to us ..."

A police officer told her he would give her the decision around 8pm, however, she had never been told that it was looking promising or they would not have come up with the plan to escape.

She said with the tangi due to happen within hours, and a three-hour round trip to bring the body from Auckland to Hamilton time was running very short.

She told Checkpoint that before the escape: "I was panicking, because I was running out of time. My children were looking at me, waiting for me to give them that answer ...yes we can go."

The mother said her children were crying and confused and she felt she had failed them.  

"It was just a decision made on the spot - it's time to go to your father."

She unscrewed a latch on the window and they all left the facility by climbing over a fence. They ran to a park across the road but were soon caught, however, one son made it to Auckland.

"We all had our masks on ... the intention was just for my children to see their father ...I honestly believe that the system failed us."

She had arranged beforehand that if they escaped, a contact would drive from Auckland to pick them up.

She said they did not come to New Zealand to ruin their lives. She has a good job in the aged care and disability sector in Australia. "I didn't plan for this to happen."

The mum said her job in Brisbane was now at risk because the sentencing dates had been set for the end of August and September so they would have to stay on in New Zealand for some time.

"I honestly believe the system failed us ... families need closure. All we asked for was a bit of compassion."