NEIGHBOURS of a family accused of keeping an eight-year-old boy locked in a tiny room within a farm shed have told how they rarely saw the child despite seeing his siblings getting on and off school buses.
The boy’s mother and fiance are facing a kidnapping charge as well as serious drug matters after police raided their Elands property last Friday and found an elaborate underground hydroponic cannabis set-up, as well as the child locked in the room.
The Newcastle Herald revealed that the boy had told police he had been locked inside for more than three weeks, only allowed out to do chores, and the only comforts he had was a single mattress, a bucket and a stool.
It can now also be revealed that the police investigation kicked off because of concerns about the boy’s welfare after he had continually failed to attend school.
It is understood general duties police had visited the 12-acre property, north west of Taree, in November but nothing made them suspicious that the child may have been mistreated.
However, they did see some evidence at the property which pointed towards cannabis cultivation.
By last week, there was enough for a search warrant, and when detectives arrived last Friday, they found the boy in a two metre square room in the back of an uninsulated tin shed, which was locked from the outside.
He appeared malnourished.
The boy had lived at the property along with three other children after the family had moved from North Gosford earlier this year, buying the property for $420,000.
A neighbour, who did not wish to be named, said they had regularly seen the three other children get on and off the school bus.
“But not the boy, we hardly ever saw him,’’ the neighbour said.
“There was definitely the other kids, and I’m not saying I never saw him, but it was rare and it was never close by.’’
The neighbour said the family were friendly but kept to themselves.
“There are a few outrageous people up this way and they were definitely not that bad,’’ he said.
“We are totally shocked about all of this.
“We never put two and two together about the boy.
“I actually had trouble believing it until I read it online this morning, that opened my eyes up.
“I wouldn’t say they were normal, but they were not as bad as some who live up this way.’’
The Child Abuse Squad has taken over the investigation into the treatment of the boy, while Manning-Great Lakes police continue to investigate who else may have played a PART in the building and growing of the underground hydroponic set-up.
EARLIER REPORT: A BOY has been discovered locked in a tiny room within a shed on a remote property, allowed out only for chores as his family allegedly built one of the most elaborate drug set-ups seen by police.
The eight-year-old and three other children, aged between 12 months and nine years, have been placed into the care of the Department of Family and Community Services after police discovered them during a raid on the property at Elands, north west of Taree.
The boy was found in a two square metre room at the back of an uninsulated tin shed, the door locked from the outside and with only a single mattress and a bucket inside.
He has told police he had been kept in the shed for more than three weeks, enduring storms and extremely high temperatures and only allowed outside to help the household with chores.
But the boy was not the only discovery to raise the eyebrow of detectives, with a highly-sophisticated cannabis set-up found inside three shipping containers buried under a deck.
The deck, which could only be moved using hydraulics and boasted a large outdoor spa, camouflaged a trap door opening up to steps and the hydroponic set up allegedly holding 225 plants.
Manning-Great Lakes crime manager Detective Inspector Peter McKenna said police had received intelligence about drugs being grown on the property but had only found the children upon arrival.
“The door to the small room in the shed was locked from the outside and police will allege that the boy was mistreated and only allowed out of the shed for chores and sometimes foot,’’ he said.
But about two hours into the raid, and as officers wondered whether the information they had received about the drugs was wrong, an officer flicked a switch.
As wide-eyed officers watched, the outdoor deck rolled away, revealing the trap door.
Once inside, the detectives clambered down some built-in steel stairs before allegedly discovered the three shipping containers cut into a large room where the 225 plants were in various stages of maturity.
“I think it is fair to say it is very elaborate,’’ Detective Inspector McKenna said.
“When the switch was flicked the humming noise kicked in and the deck started to roll back.
“It startled a few of them.’’
Two men, aged 28 and 19, and the 26-year-old mother of the boy were arrested at the home and charged with cultivate a large commercial quantity of cannabis.
The elder man and woman were also charged with detaining a person with intent for financial advantage.
The investigation into the raid, and the treatment of the children, was continuing.
The eight-year-old allegedly told police he had been forced to spend most of his time in the tiny room at the back of the steel workshed for weeks.
As well as the extreme temperatures and large storms, the boy survived with just a mattress and some blankets and a bucket for him to go to the toilet in.
There was one small window to allow some natural light in, and the lock was only turned when he was needed to help out around the property.