A disgraced Queenstown postie’s admission she stole thousands of mail items will be cold comfort to one tragically affected family.
New Zealand Post ex-staffer Philippa Lynette Lindsay, 32, pleaded guilty in Queenstown District Court on Monday to theft by a person in a special relationship.
Lindsay, to be sentenced on April 8, was to have been committed for trial this week over the missing mail scandal which involved items dating from September, 2010, to November, 2012.
It affected hundreds of residents in the Wakatipu but none more so than the Blick family, who failed to receive a deathbed letter in time.
Shirley Blick, of Fernhill – one of the worst-affected Queenstown suburbs – believes her late husband Rudd missed several sympathy letters from friends during an 18-month battle with cancer.
“I know of one letter from a friend’s daughter that my husband would have loved to have read before he died,” Blick lamented in November.
“We were very close with the family, they now live in Nelson, and she wrote to say how much Rudd had played a part in her life. It was quite lovely, but all spoilt.
“At the time this particular letter went missing, we were all very vulnerable and something that could have been very special didn’t happen.”
Other residents in affected suburbs including Sunshine Bay, Arrowtown and Lake Hayes Estate have been frustrated by failing to get bill invoices, wedding invites, birthday cards, gifts, tax forms and in one case a hospital appointment memo.
Lindsay’s defence counsel Phena Byrne this week told Judge Michael Turner there was no agreed summary of facts and some “issues with figures to be ironed out”.
A draft summary – not agreed to by Byrne – reveals a claim some items of recovered mail were partially shredded.
Police claim they recovered 21,382 items – up on previous estimates of 17,000. Of the hoard, 1577 items were opened.
It even included 32 items addressed to culprit Lindsay and 105 pieces of mail which haven’t had their owners identified. At the time of her arrest in November, Lindsay said she had no explanation and it was “just stupidity on my part”, the draft summary says.
Lindsay also denied opening any of the hoarded mail, it says.
When the story first broke in November, police estimated about 3000 pieces had been taken – they’d found more than 30 boxes with up to 100 items in each scattered around Lindsay’s property.
That estimate quickly rose to 17,000 a day later when police discovered more boxes and suitcases full of mail at a rented 1.5mx1.5m storage facility in Arrowtown. Police got a search warrant for the facility after discovering invoices for its rent – addressed to Lindsay – among the hoarded mail at her address.
It’s still unknown why Lindsay failed to deliver such a large amount of mail. The draft summary claims a NZ Post investigator, conducting an internal inquiry, met Lindsay during her route on November 9 last year and saw a significant amount of mail in her vehicle.
“The amount observed was considered by the investigator to be far in excess of what her expected deliveries for the day should have been – and he questioned the defendant as to their presence in her vehicle,” the draft summary says.
The defendant declined to allow the investigator to examine the items and drove off, later meeting with the investigator at Queenstown’s NZ Post office to hand over the portion of mail seen but denying there was any more, the draft says. At that stage, Lindsay was arrested.
NZ Post, which has since organised a mass redelivery operation, has apologised to furious residents for having a staffer who let them down.
In November, NZ Post heartlands manager Dean Horsup said: “Obviously the delay for us to actually get on top of it is disappointing and we’re looking at our own systems to see what went wrong.”
Judge Turner has asked for a pre-sentence report to be prepared, addressing community work and home detention.
Additional reporting Tracey Roxburgh, Otago Daily Times