“So how do you feel about your light bulbs being stolen?”

Arie Smith-Voorkamp was the face of Christchurch earthquake looting because of the media attention he received. He made it onto at least one of the <insert bad thing here> the looters!12@@#%^## Facebook groups. Shame on the looters! There is no excuse. Who are they to pick on the poor people of Christchurch?

The loot

The story gets interesting when you find out what he is alleged to have stolen. Two light bulbs from an untenanted and vacant building. Police describe the nature of the offending as serious and say that there is a strong public interest in the case. Arie was in jail for 11 days.

Asperger’sEarthquake Damaged Building

Arie has Asperger’s syndrome which fuels his obsession for all things electrical, including old light fittings. “Sometimes I get that excited about it sometimes I can’t sleep.” He had walked past the building many times, and became fixated on a switch in the shop. Once inside he found that the switch was too modern, but found two light bulbs that he thought he could clean up and display in his house. He says he was not thinking about theft, or the danger he was placing himself in.

Sunday programme

The Sunday programme ran a story about Arie last week, which seemed to excite the Police. Canterbury Central Police Area Commander Inspector Derek Erasmus suggested to the building owners they call TVNZ to try to stop the story going to air.

“On Friday the Sunday programme received an email from Inspector Erasmus advising us that we were under criminal investigation in relation to our story. So we’ll keep you updated on that.”

The victims

Building owners Andrew and Irene Matsis didn’t even know about the “theft” until Sunday contacted them for the story. This seems to contradict the Police calling the offending serious. Surely in serious offending the victims would actually be notified.

“Well since Sunday interviewed the Matsis’ a fortnight ago, senior Police have visited the couple twice. The first time Thursday and again Friday. On Thursday in a press release Inspector Derek Erasmus, said the Matsis’ were now happy for the case to proceed to court, where the matter should be resolved. Sunday spoke to Andrew Matsis just hours ago, he’s happy for the case to go to court but hopes Arie’s name will be cleared.”

On the programme, Andrew says if he knew about the alleged looting he would’ve been angry at Arie for putting himself in danger, not for pinching anything.

Andrew and Irene say they would not have pressed charges if they were contacted by the Police. The interview resulted in the hilarious question: “So… how do you feel about your lightbulbs being stolen?” to which Irene replied: “We do not care about our lightbulbs, he’s welcome to them. And you can tell the Police, I mean we have more important things [to deal with, our] house is falling down and we’re going to worry about light bulbs? No.”

I know stealing is stealing (though is it in this case if the building owners say he is welcome to the light bulbs, abeit after the fact?), but common sense dictates there is a better use of court time and money than to make an example out of someone who offended as a result of a documented disability, who has an unblemished criminal record, and who has already served jail time just because he took a couple of lighting fixtures.

Andrew Matsis: You said you never had any other history of doing anything like that before?
Arie Smith-Voorkamp: No.
AM: First time with the Police?
ASV: Yes.
AM: And they make a court case. What a waste of money.

What do you think? Is there no excuse for looting, no matter the situation?

Image credit: Me

3 thoughts on ““So how do you feel about your light bulbs being stolen?”

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  2. I cried when I watched this news story. My brother has Aspergers Syndrome, though his isn’t as extreme as Arie’s, and it sickens me that people can look at someone like him who clearly has an intellectual disability and treat him like he is a major criminal for stealing two lightbulbs – the object of his obsession. No, it is not okay to let people off serious crimes because of their disability, but taking two lightbulbs is not a serious crime! The owners of the building didn’t care, and the building wasn’t even in use. The fact that they weren’t even told about it shows that everyone wanted a face for looting to shame, rather than capturing a criminal for the owner’s benefit. People with Aspergers Syndrome very often have a special interest or obsession that consumes them. For my brother, it’s playing the piano. It drives him crazy if he can’t play it. He came to visit me in Wellington with my parents and was visibly irritated and distracted the entire weekend because there was no piano for him to play, and he wouldn’t stop going on about it and begging us to take him somewhere where he could play. These obsessions take over their minds. Just looking at Arie’s collection of electrical things, I can see that same obsession typical of Aspergers. People with this condition need the public’s understanding. I can understand that the police / army workers were trying to handcuff him and he appeared to be resisting arrest, but people with Aspergers suffer from sensory overload – they cannot cope with loud noises, sudden changes in environment and being touched, and they find it nearly impossible to understand normal social situations. Arie, naturally, would freak out when being arrested. I don’t blame the police or army workers for being rough with someone who appeared to be resisting arrest, but if they did know there was “something funny” about him from the way he talked and was going on about lightbulbs, surely some sensitivity should have been taken. There is no point this dragging on. He has no prior convictions, the owners don’t care about the lightbulbs, and his life has been hard enough as it is without this. I’m just feeling so sad for him right now, and that isn’t because I’m influenced by the media, it’s because I’ve grown up with an Aspergers sufferer and seen the hard life he leads every day and understand how something like this could happen to him. It doesn’t make him, or Arie, a bad person.

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