Graham Reid | | 19 min read
A little background to these stories which appeared in the New Zealand Herald . . .
Late in 2003 Russell Baillie, the Herald’s entertainment editor, and I were talking about having something light-hearted in the paper over the holiday period. I came up with the idea of following a snotty, stroppy, ungrateful, surly 14-year old girl of the kind you see in shopping malls -- or worse, in the back bedroom of your house -- who snap “What?” when you look at them.
In November that year I went to England and Spain for a month and while sitting for a few hours in Singapore airport I wrote the whole of the Amber Riley-Thompson series.
In early December I came back to work, typed them up and passed them around. People laughed like drains and the Herald ran them daily over that Christmas/New Year period. You can read them, with an introduction as to how they came out, here.
They were an instant success. There was hate mail about Amber within a day.
Talkback here (and in Australia according to my sister who heard some host there banging on about this ungrateful kid) climbed into her. Then, after a few episodes, people saw it was a joke.
Most people. There was still the odd curmudgeon who would ring or e-mail me demanding to know why valuable news space was being wasted on such ne’er-do-wells as the Riley-Thompson family.
I loved telling those people it was a joke. That infuriated them even more.
However most people took Amber to heart, some asked me if there was a book coming.
I said no.
We laid Amber to rest in the paper in early January 2004 but . . .
Late in that year Russell and I were again bored in the office and decided to resurrect Amber and her family for the Christmas season. Again people enjoyed it and this time, as far as I know, no one rang talkback. I am told one host however nutted off at length about why the Herald would run a boring story about a boy who got his head stuck in some railings.
There’s one born every minute.
Here are the stories . . .
AMBER AGAIN: PART TWO
New Zealand Herald October 23 2004 -- December 18 2004
A quiet barbecue at Eastern Beach last night went badly wrong for a Howick family when it was invaded by dozens of teenagers who arrived expecting a party.
The drama began around 7pm when the Riley-Thompson family set up their barbecue on the picturesque beach only to be suddenly swamped by 30 teenagers claiming to be friends of their daughter, 14 year-old Amber.
“We were just putting up the volleyball net when these cars full of young hooligans came screaming in and jumped out carrying crates of beer,” said a still-shaken Mrs Raylene Riley-Thompson later.
“We were just having a nice night out before Dad and I and [10 year-old son] Jarred went off to the Coromandel for the long weekend. Amber is going to look after the house over the weekend and some of these thugs pretended they knew her, but they all looked much older than her nice friends from school.”
Daughter Amber said perhaps a text message she sent to her friend Carla “may have gone wrong so maybe Shagger and Davo picked it up. I dunno. I never seen none of those guys before, but it was pretty stink when Dad said he’d call the cops.
“I mean they’d brung their own beer and it wasn’t like they were going to drink his or Uncle Martin’s.”
Amber’s father Bruce Riley-Thompson said he was suspicious about how the teenagers knew the family would be at the beach, but saw no reason to change their holiday plans.
He believed Amber and her friend Jayde would still be safe at home over the weekend, although some of the teenagers left shouting obscenities at him.
“The guys were pretty slacked off,” said Amber later, “so Danny and them left and went to Amanda’s. Her olds are up at Kakamoana for the weekend.”
Emergency services were called to a Howick shopping centre yesterday afternoon when a young boy was found to have his head stuck between railings outside the Burger King.
Jarred Riley-Thompson, age 10, was discovered by passers-by around 5pm, and police and fire services were called in to attempt to remove him. Officers worked for 20 minutes to free him and his parents Bruce and Raylene arrived shortly after to take him home.
Late last night he was described as comfortable if slightly distressed, but unwilling to talk about the incident.
Enquiries have confirmed Jarred had been in the care of his older sister Amber, 14, at the time and had accompanied her and a friend Jayde to the mall to see a movie. However some time in the late afternoon he appeared to have slipped and got his head stuck in the railings.
“Mum said I had to take Jarred to the movies,” said Amber later, “but he wanted to see something stink like Shark Tale, and me and Jayde wanted to go to that Alien thing because Dean said it was really cool.
“Anyway we went to Burger King and I told him to wait outside and when we came back he sort of had his head stuck and that. It wasn’t nothing to do with me. You can ask Jayde.”
Amber later confirmed that because her brother was unable to move she knew he could come to no further harm so she and her friend went to the film they wanted to see. They intended returning for him later. In the meantime emergency services were called.
“We were just at the movies anyway and I reckon he would have been all right there. We’d left him some fries and stuff, and we were going to get him out when we came back. He wasn’t crying or nothing.“
“It was a curious situation,” said Constable Peta Brakovich. “It took some effort to release him and I can only think it must have been equally difficult for him to have slipped or even negotiated his head into such a small space.
“It was almost as if he had been put there deliberately. But you can’t imagine who might do something like that. He seemed a nice enough wee lad.”
The recent case in which an insurance company declined a client’s claim has raised the anger of a Howick family which has also suffered similar setbacks.
Plasterer Bruce Riley-Thompson said this week that in the first incident two years ago a number of items were stolen from his car and the insurance company refused to pay out.
“It was just after Christmas and I’d left the car in the driveway outside my brother Martin’s place in Manurewa. When we came back some bastard had knocked off the new DVD player and microwave that I had on the back seat. They were brand new and still in their boxes and I reckoned all up they were worth about $650.
“But because I couldn’t produce a receipt for them the buggers knocked me back. I‘d paid cash down at Briscoes a couple of days before and had lost the docket, and the blokes down there reckoned they didn‘t recognise me so wouldn’t sign a thing saying I‘d bought them. Pissed me right off, so we changed insurance companies straight off. They‘re just a bunch of bloody crooks basically.”
In the latest incident their new insurance company has also refused to pay out on a substantial claim.
“We went to the beach last weekend,” Mrs Raylene Riley-Thompson told the Herald yesterday, “ and when we came back from a walk someone had taken our towels and beach bag. The towels were almost new and the beach bag contained my daughter Amber’s portable CD player and some new cassettes we’d just bought for it, plus Bruce’s new binoculars, and my watch which Bruce had just bought for my birthday. It was gold and had some diamonds in the strap.
“We weren’t so worried about the towels and the few other things in the bag like my son Jarred’s digital camera and a wallet with about $45 cash in it, but I reckon all up the contents of the bag must have been worth in the vicinity of $765.80, which is what we claimed for it.”
The Riley-Thompson’s total claim of over $2500 was rejected by their insurance company because no receipts for the new items were available, there were no witnesses, there were discrepancies in the value of the items claimed, and no complaint had been made to the police.
In the opinion of the company’s assessor Mr Stuart Chaplin there was no evidence the family had ever owned such items, let alone had them stolen.
“It’s just what I suspected,” said Mr Riley-Thompson last night. “They are just a bunch of thieves who take your money. It’s hard enough at this time of year for a struggling family like ours. We’re trying to save up to take the kids to the Gold Coast for Christmas. We’ve already booked the tickets and right now we’re trying to get some spending money together. We don’t need a setback like this.”
An Auckland University student was involved in an ugly incident on the Mt Wellington highway on Thursday night which authorities say remains unresolved, although a Howick man and his teenage daughter are helping them with their enquiries.
First year engineering student James Chen of Howick was waiting at traffic lights when the man and girl pulled up alongside him.
“They seemed to be having some kind of argument because the man was very red in the face and shouting at the girl. She turned to look at me and smiled. I recognised her as a kid who always used to come into Burger King in Howick when I worked there so I waved and smiled back. That’s when it just went crazy.”
Chen believes the man thought he was laughing at him and waved his fist at the student, then when the lights changed he swerved in front of Chen’s car and cut him off. At the next set of lights the man cut Chen off by stopping in the middle of the road.
“The guy leaped out and started yelling and swearing at me, and accused me of being an overstayer. He said something about Asian drivers and by that time a crowd had gathered. Just before the police arrived they took off.”
Homemaker Elizabeth Sommers who saw the incident told police that Chen was very shaken and that the man was being encouraged by his daughter “who seemed to think that poor Mr Chen had made a rude gesture at them. She seemed to stir things up quite a bit”.
Chen told police that he had merely smiled at a young girl he thought he recognised and that she seemed to have been the cause of the trouble.
“She kept telling the man that I had given them the fingers and that I looked like I probably didn’t even have a New Zealand driver’s license. She was a really nasty kid. I tried to tell them that both my parents were born here and I’ve lived in Auckland all my life. But the guy just kept yelling in my face.
“When a crowd started to gather they just took off. They seemed to have forgotten what they were arguing about too because the last I saw of them they were laughing together and the little girl turned and gave me the fingers through the car window.
“It was weird and pretty scary.”
Police and fire services were twice called to an Auckland school this week in what one officer described as “wilful nuisance pranks which take essential services away from more pressing duties”.
The calls on Tuesday and Wednesday to Howick East High also disrupted important end-of-year examinations and mean 230 students will have to return to school next week to sit alternative tests.
Principal Ms Annette Getty has been fielding complaints from students and parents who had already made holiday plans but she admitted there was no ready alternative for the students inconvenienced.
“This was obviously intended as a deliberate act to disrupt these important exams.”
Police say the fire alarm in the corridor near the principal’s office was set off on both occasions and classrooms were immediately evacuated. There was only one witness, 14-year old student Amber Riley-Thompson who had been suspended from classes and was at a desk in the same corridor.
“I didn’t see anyone because I had to sit here and read some stink book that Mrs Radley gave me for English,” she told the Herald yesterday. “I had to read, like, the whole thing so I didn‘t see nothing except all the teachers and them running when the glass was broken.
“I think there was a girl here with brown hair or something just before but I dunno. I was reading my book the whole time. I mean, I missed my exams too so it wasn’t me although I know some of them teachers reckon it was. But it wasn’t.”
Principal Getty confirmed Riley-Thompson had been questioned but after she had revealed the presence of another girl the school was now obliged to concentrate its enquiries elsewhere.
“Amber has been in a little trouble this year, discipline problems and fights mainly, “ said Ms Getty. “But this doesn’t seem like her handiwork. Anyway her father has said if she is a suspect the police should charge her, or we should all just bloody well shut up.
“Or words to that effect.”
The first day at her new holiday job proved to be the last for a Howick schoolgirl who was dismissed amidst accusations of threatening behaviour, theft, foul language and insulting customers.
Harry Xiang of the Golden Flying Horse Takeaways said his young employee was the niece of a friend so he offered her employment for five hours a day serving customers and taking orders.
“But the first thing was she turned up 20 minutes late, and then said didn’t want to serve customers when she was told they were unlikely to tip her. She said the money we were paying was stink useless and that she would just ask our customers directly for tips because she wanted to buy an X-Box.”
In the following hour, according to Mr Chen*, the girl insulted a regular customer by calling him “Piggy Boy” and told some Muslim students that the meals they ordered were “rubbish Chinese stuff” and they would be better off going to Burger King for the double-bacon meal with fries.
“She was just rude and insensitive to everyone, and shouted at my wife when she asked her to not spend so much time texting friends. Then we found out that she was only 14, her uncle had told us she was 16, and that she wouldn’t be working weekends because she and her friends always hung around the mall on Saturdays.
“At that point we just asked her leave. She had only been there about two hours and she’d broken the sliding door of the pie cabinet, and eaten two burgers which she refused to pay for because she said she’d been told you could eat all you like when you worked in food shops. She’d also given two of her friends a milkshake which she said they paid for but they obviously didn’t.
“It was just a nightmare and we paid her for the whole day just to get her out of the place. On the way out she stole two cans of Coke but I just let her go. Frankly we were scared of her.”
The girl, Amber Riley-Thompson, told the Herald yesterday that she didn’t care about the job and that the Golden Flying Horse was not the kind of place she would eat in anyway.
“I only done it because Uncle Martin got it for me and I was only going to work for a few days until I got some money to pay back Darryn for some stuff he got for me. All that Chinese food makes me want to chuck anyway, so me and Jayde is going to get a job at Burger King. Or maybe I’ll work with Uncle Martin in his jeweller shop. I dunno, I don’t care. Work stinks anyway.”
* Observant readers will note the name of the owner has changed. At the time an Act list MP entered parliament but there was confusion about his name, sometimes it appeared as “Wang” and sometimes as “Wong”. He settled on Wang.
Confusion over flight bookings lead to security guards being called in to defuse an angry situation at Auckland International Airport this week.
The Riley-Thompson family of Howick arrived at the Air New Zealand counter on Thursday morning prepared for their 10-day holiday in Australia but had mistakenly thought Hot Points and airpoints were the same thing.
The family insisted they had built up what they thought were enough points for a trip to see friends on the Gold Coast, and when informed of their mistake became agitated and unruly, according to an airport spokesman.
"It seems the woman thought Hot Points and airpoints were the same and was pretty upset when told that they weren’t. They also didn’t realise that even if they had enough airpoints you couldn’t just turn up to the counter and expect to get on a flight.
“They abused a few of the staff but basically the trouble began when they turned on each other. The husband said the most terrible things to his wife, but I have to say the worst of the abuse came from the daughter. She could swear like a sailor, and a pretty drunk one at that.”
Mr Bruce Riley-Thompson later said the confusion his wife experienced was understandable given the number of fly-buy and air points schemes available, and that airlines like Air New Zealand had a responsibility to take “decent hard-working Kiwi families like ours” wherever they wanted to go “otherwise we’ll fly with one of them wog ones you see who have good deals going.”
Daughter Amber, age 14, denied she caused trouble for security guards when she pushed a trolley at them and lashed out with her boogie-board.
“Those guys was just looking for trouble and reckoned they could just pick on little kids,” she said yesterday. “My brother Jarred and I were just standing there talking to Mum when that big dork came up and grabbed me. He isn’t allowed to touch me. I know my rights.”
Security guard Mr Malo Fitipalo’o said he heard shouting from the check-in counter and rushed to the scene where he found the Riley-Thompsons engaged in an argument with airline staff.
“Then the little girl and boy started yelling and kicking their mother, and that’s when the husband also started in on her. People tried to stop it but then they too were abused. The priest was particularly shocked by what the man said to him.”
After some minutes the family agreed to leave the airport building but sources have told the Herald the disagreement continued in the carpark and an automatic barrier was damaged when the family drove through without stopping.
Police are investigating the incident and expect to have a report later in the month.
“Bugger it,” said Mr Riley-Thompson late yesterday afternoon from a table in the Corner Bar of the Howick Family Tavern. “We’ll all just have go back to Kakamoana Beach up north. We had a bloody good time there last year. It was quiet and there was no trouble at all.
“Despite what some bastard in your newspaper reckoned.”
The small Northland town of Kakamoana is recovering today after a series of events which struck after a family from Howick arrived to spend a fortnight at the local caravan park.
Dairy owner Ron Travis said he had lived in the district for over 30 years and had never experienced anything like it.
“This family hit town like a hurricane. The boys down at the caravan park reckon that it has cost them bookings for the next fortnight, if not into the new year what with the damage these buggers have done to their reputation, not to mention the toilet block.”
The drama began on Monday afternoon when the Riley-Thompson family arrived at the park to find the site they thought they were getting was occupied. Mr Bruce Riley-Thompson was insistent the elderly couple from Tauranga vacate the site and when park owner Rangi Hunter refused to move the couple a heated discussion took place.
“The guy just went beserk,” said Mr Hunter. “He said they been up every year for the past two years and said that gave him some rights. Then I remembered them from the dramas last year so thought it better just to ask the old folks to move, and fortunately they agreed. I think they were pretty scared to be honest.”
Things took a nasty turn later in the evening when Mr Riley-Thomson insisted on starting up his jet ski in campgrounds and running the engine for over an hour, according to Mr Hunter.
“Then just about midnight there was this terrible bloody racket. It seemed the daughter had skipped off down the beach with one of the local boys and had come back a bit worse for wear. The next morning the mother charged off into the village to find the boy and got into one helluva argument with Ben Potiki.
“She reckoned it was his boy Danny, but Danny was staying over at a friends. When she said something like, ‘Well, it was some bloody Maori kid anyway’ it all took a pretty bitter turn. Things were tense at the pub that night when they came in, I can tell you.”
Incidents of theft from the local grocery shop, an argument on the beach over Maori foreshore issues with locals Mika Royal and Tiny Jacobs, and an accident in the carpark when a young man was knocked off his motorcycle by a rugby ball thrown by Mr Riley-Thompson were all reported on subsequent days.
Some families have cancelled their bookings at the caravan park and others have already left.
“Look mate, there’s been hardly any trouble at all,” said Mr Riley-Thompson last night. “It’s all been blown out of proportion. And if these people want to bugger off and spoil their own holidays for themselves then that’s up to them.
“We prefer the place when it’s quiet anyway.”
Mrs Raylene Riley-Thompson added some of the local folk “are just a bit too set in their ways and are very gossipy.”
“I defy any of them to prove that the fire in the toilet block was anything to do with my daughter. She was with me and dad the whole night while young Jarred went off eeling down at the creek.”
An Auckland journalist injured after a confrontation in a popular holiday park in Northland on Thursday has been receiving counselling but is not going to press charges, according to Whangarei police.
The journalist, who prefers not to be identified, had been embedded with a Howick family and the assault began as a result of a story he recently published about them.
The Riley-Thompson family had allowed the journalist to travel with them to Kakamoana Beach but had not realised he had been writing weekly bulletins for a newspaper. The family said yesterday they thought they were going to be the subject of a book or perhaps a television programme.
“Then I read what the bugger wrote,” said an angry Bruce Riley-Thompson yesterday in terse phone conversation with the Herald.
“He seemed to think we were stupid or something, and all but accused my son Jarred of being a thief just because some stuff was nicked from the local store when he was in there by himself.
“I asked Jarred if he‘d done it and he said no . . . and my son‘s word is good enough for me. But your bloody reporter wanted to hang him out to dry.”
Mr Riley-Thompson confirmed there had been a confrontation with the journalist on Thursday night after the family returned from a fishing trip. The journalist had apparently suggested most of the fish were under-sized and the family disagreed.
“Then my daughter Amber said something about what he’d written and I had no bloody idea that he’d already put some stuff in the paper. He shot through to his tent so mum and me went over to the pub and talked it over after Amber showed us some stories. We decided he needed to be sorted out.”
Kakamoana Caravan Park manager Rangi Hunter said he was alerted to the situation by the journalist’s screams.
“It was a helluva racket and I though the poor bloke was being tortured or something.”
The journalist, who is recovering in the Whangarei Base Hospital and Tavern, told the Herald last night that the attack was sudden and brutal.
“It just came out of nowhere. It started with a few insults of the kind any journalist is used to from colleagues in the pub. But then it took a nasty turn and the next thing I knew I was whacked in the face and stomach and then kicked when I was on the ground. It was relentless and I was genuinely fearful I might die right there in a caravan park by the toilet block.
“Fortunately a couple of locals arrived and dragged her off me. For a 14-year old she can pack a punch. The last thing I remember was her kicking me in the stomach saying ‘Merry Christmas‘ then a word which I won‘t repeat.
“I‘m coming home in a few days and don‘t expect to ever see the Riley-Thompson‘s again. Which is kind of a shame, they weren‘t bad people.
“Actually now that I think of it, they were. Real nasty, stupid and dysfunctional people.
“I guess that‘s why we kinda liked them.”