Thursday, November 1, 2007

Man charged with killing neighbour for watering his lawn

Barbara McMahon in Sydney
Guardian Unlimited, UK

Drop of water from a hosepipe
Water has been a frequent cause of disputes in Australia, which is in its sixth year of severe drought. Photograph: PA
A man has been killed in a fight over watering his lawn in drought-stricken Australia in an apparent case of water rage.

Retired lorry driver Ken Proctor, 66, was using a hose on the front lawn of his house in Sylvania, Sydney, when a man walked past and challenged him about wasting water. The two men began to argue and Mr Proctor turned the hose on the man, soaking him.

A fight broke out and the pensioner was knocked to the ground and punched and kicked before other passers-by, including an off-duty police officer, intervened.

As his distraught wife looked on, Mr Proctor was treated at the scene by ambulance officers but died of cardiac arrest after being taken to hospital.

Police later charged 36-year-old Todd Munter, who lives nearby, with the pensioner's murder.

Australia is in its sixth year of severe drought and most towns and cities have restrictions on water use. Garden sprinklers are banned, it is illegal to wash cars with hosepipes and gardens may only be watered on set days. People caught breaching the regulations are fined.

There are special telephone lines to report transgressors and there have been violent incidents in the past because of so-called "water vigilantes" informing on their neighbours. However, this is the first time an argument over water has led to a fatality.

A spokesman for Sydney Water revealed that Mr Proctor had not in fact been in breach of water restrictions because he was watering his lawn on his allocated day, had been using a hand-held hose and was carrying out the task within approved hours.

As Mr Proctor's shocked family gathered at his house today, neighbour Bruce Buscombe described the dead man as "a very likeable sort of fellow, a real knockabout sort of bloke."

"I can't believe it. It could've been me hosing my lawn. I would have said the same thing if somebody told me off," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Mr Proctor, who drove a truck for his local council's civil works and parks department and who retired five years ago, had recently become a grandfather when his daughter gave birth to a girl last month.

Appearing in court today, Mr Munter looked upset and close to tears as members of his family, including his elderly parents, looked on from the public gallery.

His lawyer Danny Saad told the court that his client had been on medication for a chronic back problem for several years and may need an operation soon. He did not apply for bail on his client's behalf and Mr Munter was remanded in custody until November 15.

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