Wellington man lay dead 'since last year'

A Wellington man found dead in a council flat is thought to have lain dead for up to a year without anyone knowing.

The body of 88-year-old pensioner Michael Clarke was found in his bedsit on Mansfield St, Newtown.

The Newtown Park Flats block is due to be demolished and council workers raised the alarm after calling round to the flat and leaving cards that went unanswered over a few weeks.

After feeling something was wrong at the No.16 bedsit council staff alerted police, who discovered Mr Clarke's body locked inside the flat yesterday.

Council spokesman Richard MacLean said council investigations showed Mr Clarke could have been lying dead since last year.

"Having done a check of some of the things in the flat ... unfortunately it could have been late last year,"he said.

Mr Clarke had lived in the flats for about 30 years and been an ideal tenant, council social portfolio manager Stephanie Cook said.

"It appears that with Mr Taylor he was a very quiet person and had never come to our attention in the 30 years he lived with us.

"He lived quietly, he paid his rent and we had no reason to suspect that anything was wrong until we tried to get a hold of him."

His pension was still being paid, and automatic bank payments meant his rent and power bills were up to date even though had died.

Ms Cook said the council had to respect tenant's right to privacy, and workers couldn't force their way into people's homes.

"We're not running an institution, we're providing homes for people. And these people have a right to privacy just like anybody else does.

"Unless a tenant comes to our attention as being in need in some way, in which case we contact one of the social service agents to go in and see them."

"We can't send people barging into people's flats, that would be totally wrong," she told Radio New Zealand.

She said a similar situation had happened before, and council had created a community action project to encourage tenants to get to know their neighbours.

But in the case of Mr Clarke, the project failed she said.

She said council had a policy of checking on the flats twice a year, but didn't know how Mr Clarke's case went unnoticed.

"We didn't know, and it is a terrible thing that happened. We're all really quite shocked by it."

"It's absolutely awful that nobody noticed."

Wellington City Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the incident served as a reminder people need to think about the welfare of their neighbours.

"Getting to know your neighbours - even if it just means knowing their name and saying hello - is an important way of keeping our community connected and strong."

She said it appeared the tenant kept to himself and was an extremely private man who appeared to have no close family.

"Physical isolation appears to be something that's more prevalent across society in this day and age."

Ms Wade-Brown said she had asked for an update on the council's processes for contacting tenants and is open to suggestions from agencies such as Age Concern.


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