27 Mar 2014

Bleach-attack man sacked by council

10:13 pm on 27 March 2014

A Northland man viciously attacked on his way to work has been sacked after developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mike Nager, an environmental officer with the Northland Regional Council, was on his way to give evidence in a court case last June, against two men who had defied council orders to stop digging up wetlands and ancient kauri logs.

The former dairy farmer, who worked for the council for 11 years, was attacked after he pulled over into a layby when a car behind him repeatedly flashed its lights, in the early morning fog.

Mr Nager said the two men punched him, threw bleach in his eyes; cut his face and warned him to stay away - leaving him blinded and helpless after taking his phone and wallet.

He was blind for a week and has some permanent damage to his eyes, but returned to work ten days later after a spell in a safehouse provided by the police.

Mr Nager said the council initially gave him an unmarked car to use, to protect him from further potential attacks, but in September it made him start using the ute he was attacked in.

He immediately began having flashbacks.

"I could smell the bleach and everything .. and I ended up having a breakdown. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic-stress- disorder, and in October the doctor put me on stress leave."

He said the stress worsened when ACC sent the council a report on his condition, written by a case manager who misquoted the counsellor he'd been seeing.

"She implied I was a safety risk to myself and others; that I was unstable, and it could be twelve months before I could work again."

Mr Nager said his counsellor told ACC this was incorrect, and ACC admitted the report, which included his personal medical details, should never have been sent to the council in any case.

But he said the council then insisted on keeping a copy of the report, against ACC's wishes, and destroyed it only after lawyers became involved.

Mr Nager said he's still on a low-dose of anti-anxiety medication to stop his nightmares and help him sleep, and he is now feeling better.

He said the council's attitude to him since the assault has been cold, and made him feel as if he is to blame for what happened.

"The meeting I had with council managers in August, one of them said 'Oh, we just don't want to be prosecuted for not keeping you safe.' They also made me sign a statement saying the NRC was doing everything in its power to keep me safe."

Mr Nager said he signed under duress, believing that his job might be at stake if he did not.

He said he was sacked last Monday by letter, after he spoke to a newspaper about his ordeal.

"They say it's because of the length of time I've had off, but legally you're allowed six months on ACC before they can terminate your employment and (for me) it's only been just over five months now."

Mr Nager has filed complaints with the Privacy and Human Rights Commissioners and is taking the council to the Employment Authority.

Although two men have been convicted of RMA offences in relation to the case Mr Nager was prosecuting, no-one has been charged with the attack on him.

"I mean these guys are still out there. That's the biggest worry. But I've had to push it to one side and carry on with life. ".

Northland Regional Council has declined to comment.