ACC fight ‘ru­ined my life’

For­mer cop fights his demons and the sys­tem, writes Hamish McNeilly.

Sunday News - - NEWS -

THE death of a baby nearly 40 years ago haunts Frank Van Der Eik to this day.

Back then, he was a 21-year-old po­lice of­fi­cer called to a cot death in Ou­tram, Otago.

‘‘That job on its own has af­fected me more than any­thing else, be­cause as a po­lice­man you have to take the baby away,’’ he says.

That’s no small con­ces­sion from the 59-year-old, whose 13-year po­lice ca­reer was punc­tu­ated by trau­matic events in­clud­ing the Ab­bots­ford Slip, the Spring­bok Tour and the Aramoana mas­sacre.

Those ex­pe­ri­ences left Van Der Eik a bro­ken man, and he’s been in a pro­longed bat­tle with ACC for help to al­le­vi­ate his post­trau­matic stress syn­drome.

His polic­ing ca­reer started in 1978 with col­lar­ing crim­i­nals on the mean streets of Mul­doon-era Wellington be­fore he re­turned to his home­town of Dunedin.

‘‘I was a nat­u­ral cop,’’ Van Der Eik said.

But after a decade on the beat he was a shadow of his for­mer self; burnt-out from long hours and the nev­erend­ing cy­cle of fa­tal car crashes and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. And then there was the shot­gun pulled at his head, the meat cleaver wield­ing as­sailant, and hav­ing his neck slashed by a saw.

The re­sult was ’’a com­plete break­down’’.

‘‘I couldn’t get out of bed one morn­ing, I couldn’t stop cry­ing. I felt my whole life was de­stroyed.’’

In 1988 he checked into Dunedin’s Ash­burn Hall where for two months he re­ceived help for his men­tal health, while po­lice man­age­ment tried to get him de­clared men­tally un­fit.

’’They just locked me out. I had passed my use-by date.’’

On the day of the Aramoana mas­sacre in 1990 he heard Port Chalmers Sergeant Ste­wart Guthrie over the po­lice ra­dio, warn­ing gun­man David Gray to stop. Si­lence fol­lowed.

Sent to Wai­tati to set up a road­block, he was shocked to hear his friend had been killed, along with 12 oth­ers.

Van Der Eik left po­lice the fol­low­ing year with­out ever be­ing of­fered coun­selling.

His ini­tial claim for post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der, be­lieved to be one of the first of its kind in New Zealand, was de­clined from the out­set, and it took 18 months just to get a re­view hear­ing.

To help fund his le­gal bat­tle he sold his South Can­ter­bury home, and moved to Palmer­ston, Otago, this year.

ACC even­tu­ally granted weekly com­pen­sa­tion. But Van Der Eik dis­putes the cor­po­ra­tion’s cal­cu­la­tions and a re­view was held on Septem­ber 22, with a de­ci­sion ex­pected within 28 days.

Asked to re­spond to his claims of de­lays, de­nials and avoid­ance, a spokesman said ‘‘ACC staff do their best to work their hard­est and I am sorry to hear that that is the client’s view’’.

Van Der Eik said his fight with ACC was un­healthy and some­thing he did not want, ‘‘but they have forced me here’’.

‘‘This has ru­ined my life.’’

Frank Van Der Eik sold his home to cover his costs.

Keisha Cas­tle-Hughes says Hol­ly­wood’s play­ing it safe and prefers TV roles.

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