When an employee made his third coffee for the day he noticed a nail polish taste to the milk, sparking an investigation into a possible poisoning plot within his workplace.
Now, Clinton Sullivan, who works for Whangārei Animal Management and Noise Control/Armourguard, has been accused of putting antifreeze into a bottle of milk at his work.
Sullivan is defending a charge of poisoning with intent to cause grievous bodily harm in a judge-alone trial at the Whangārei District Court.
Yesterday, the court heard that on Sunday, August 1, 2021, the night compliance manager at the pound, Rangihau Kahukiwa, was working a shift.
Throughout the shift, Kahukiwa made two coffees at the Kioreora Rd, Whangārei site using the same 2-litre bottle of milk in the tearoom fridge.
When he returned to the work site from a job to make a third cup of coffee, Kahukiwa noticed the door was unusually double locked and in the fridge the milk was green, but he thought someone had played a prank and put food colouring in it, the court heard.
Unaware of any potential danger, he tasted the milk and experienced an instant dryness and a chemical taste, prompting him to spit it out and rinse with several cups of water.
Kahukiwa would spend the next two-and-a-half hours trying to get the taste out of his mouth, the court heard.
The employee first thought it was a practical joke before he took a sip of milk that turned out to be laced with antifreeze. Photo / Supplied
“Antifreeze is a poison,” Crown prosecutor Danica Soich told the court. “The defendant added it to the milk to cause grievous bodily harm.”
When managers turned up the next day, they went through a process of elimination to determine what could be in the milk.
They tested dishwashing liquid and several other chemical products before an administrator discovered a bottle of antifreeze in the stationery room with the seal broken, the court heard.
“I go in and out of that office all the time and I had never seen it in there before,” manager Peter Banks said in evidence.
“I was surprised to see it in there, to be honest.”
When they tested the antifreeze in another bottle of milk, it came out with the exact green tinge, the court heard.
Antifreeze is an additive that lowers the freezing point of a water-based liquid and is commonly used as a coolant in car engines. It contains ethylene glycol which is toxic in high amounts.
CCTV was produced in court from multiple camera angles which showed Sullivan pulling into the site at 9.38pm on the Sunday.
Sullivan was recorded going back and forth from his vehicle and one camera captured him at the kitchen sink with an object.
“Do you recognise that object?” Soich asked Banks.
“Yes, that’s the bottle of milk being rinsed under the tap,” Banks said.
Kahukiwa told the court he had worked with Sullivan for 18 months but the Saturday night prior, Sullivan’s actions had raised suspicions.
Kahukiwa said Sullivan had called in sick with a sore hand, supposedly heading to hospital.
However, when Kahukiwa arrived at the First Ave site two hours later, Sullivan was present, casting doubt on the legitimacy of his reported ailment.
“I walked through reception and went into the area where the seized equipment is and he was standing inside. I asked, ‘Are you alright bud?’, and he got a fright.
“I was suspicious of how the vehicle was parked, with the garage doors down and the canopy of the ute open,” Kahukiwa said.
Sullivan told Kahukiwa he was looking for a stereo which Kahukiwa later reported to his senior manager.
Sullivan’s lawyer, Aaron Dooney, questioned what the link was between the incident on Saturday and the milk.
“There may not be a link. I’m just stating that Saturday night his behaviour was suspicious,” Kahukiwa responded.
The Crown will call 10 witnesses to give evidence at the trial before Judge Philip Rzepecky. It is expected to last three days.
Shannon Pitman is a Whangārei based reporter for Open Justice covering courts in the Te Tai Tokerau region. She is of Ngāpuhi/ Ngāti Pūkenga descent and has worked in digital media for the past five years. She joined NZME in 2023.
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