Hastings gastro outbreak just marketing stunt to promote new documentary about Hastings gastro outbreak

Squiggly blue worms connote disease in the mind of readers.

Squiggly blue worms connote disease in the mind of readers.

What looked like an increasingly serious outbreak of a gastro illness caused by a contaminated water supply in Hastings’ Havelock North, has turned out to be nothing more than a publicity stunt by the makers of a new documentary about the outbreak.

Following the launch of a Government inquiry into the contamination that has left hundreds of people ill, a pair of documentary filmmakers have come forward to admit that they deliberately infected Havelock North’s water supply to gain media attention for their new film, which is about that same outbreak.

Gabby Sullivan and Clayton Watling said they just wanted to promote their new film, Gastrogeddon Havelock: A District Health Board’s Negligence and Wonder How That Happened?

Executive of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, Kevin Snee, said today that it was apparent the pair had gone to “great lengths” to poison the town’s water.

“There are nine tanks – nine water tanks – that supply water to Havelock North,” said Snee. “Yesterday, we ran some checks on those tanks, and there was one in particular we found quite a few interesting things in. There was – as we suspected – faeces in there, and a lot of it, actually. There was probably several buckets of dishwashing powder, broken glass, absinthe, several animal carcasses, what could only be described as parts of a train, and it goes on and on, really.”

He said that, given the contents of the water tank, it was “no wonder” people were sick.

“All in all, though, we’re just relieved it was a marketing stunt and not a real crisis,” he laughed.

Snee said there was “no realistic way” the Hawke’s Bay DHB could have prevented what happened, save for “putting locks on the water tanks or something, I don’t know.”

Prime Minister John Key, who had this morning suggested some at the DHB may lose their jobs over the crisis, said he was “very pleased” that the mystery had been solved, and the situation had resolved itself.

“Oh look, it’s always very concerning when residents feel as though their water maybe isn’t safe to drink, stuff like that,” he said. “I think they’ll be as pleased as I am to hear it wasn’t serious, just a bit of promotional stuff.”

Key said he hoped those affected would “get well soon”, adding that “I think most New Zealanders would agree that marketing is something that companies do in various ways from time to time.”

Meanwhile, Sullivan & Watling are optimistic about the progress of their documentary.

“This wasn’t really a documentary we set out to make,” said Sullivan, “but the material was there, it was in our own community, and it was compelling, you know, what was happening, in terms of the public health, the finger-pointing, who was to blame, you know?”

“Exactly,” added Watling. “We just wanted to get the story out there, and one of the best ways to do that is, I feel, to make it real to people, to make it very salient, if you will, so that’s what we tried to do.”

In a statement this afternoon, the Hawke’s Bay DHB said it was still looking into why Havelock North residents weren’t alerted to the contamination of their water by its “thick, black, viscous nature.”