Organisers of the Auckland Santa Parade are reported to be considering cancelling future parades, after an incident ruined the annual event for families.
The event attracts up to a quarter of a million people, but in the last few years a number of incidents have ruined the enjoyment of the spectacle for many.
According to witnesses, a bottle was thrown at the final float in the parade, Santa’s Sleigh, just as the float reached the bottom of Queen Street at about 3:30pm yesterday.
Television footage that aired last night showed the man playing the part of Santa Claus leaping from the float and charging into a crowd of children and parents, apparently trying to get to the person who threw the bottle.
A brawl involving Santa, children, parents and police then followed. The brawl was eventually broken up by police, with the aid of a Chinese cultural group involved with the parade. Members of the cultural group reportedly disarmed brawlers using high kicks and other martial arts techniques.
Police today confirmed that several people were arrested after the fight, and that a number of those arrested were in possession of weapons, including knives, handguns, fighting sticks and chainsaws.
Timmy Brown, aged eight, described what happened.
“I saw Santa running towards me. I thought he was going to give me a big hug, but instead he knocked me over. Now I’ve got a broken arm. I’m sorry I was such a naughty boy this year, Santa.”
Parade organisers would not confirm the name of the man playing the role of Santa Claus, whom police arrested. But last night police named him as Vincent Wylie, sickness beneficiary. Police also confirmed that Mr Wylie is a member of the Mongrel Mob. They confirmed that a number of other gang members were arrested during the incident yesterday, and that the fight appeared to be gang-related.
Organisers of the parade had little to say about the disruption yesterday, although they did admit it cast doubt on the future of the event. But an inside source said that the incident stemmed from a refusal by organisers to allow a Black Power float to join the parade.
Black Power spokesman Jerome Smith said that the gang had approached organisers asking for a place in the parade, but had been refused.
“They said they didn’t want no gangs involved,” said Mr Smith.
“We told them that was bullshit, because the main float of the parade was all decked out in the colours of our rivals, but they said it was just a coincidence.
“It turns out the guy playing Santa was one of the Mongrel Mob’s top men.”
Mr Smith denied that Black Power deliberately disrupted the event.
“Nah, bro, I don’t know nothing about that,” said Mr Smith.
This is not the first incident to ruin the event for spectators, and other Auckland Santa Parades have been the target of disruptions.
Last year’s event was marred by a terror attack when Islamic extremists disguised as bagpipers seized control of one of the floats. On that occasion swift intervention by the SAS allowed the event to continue after a delay to remove the bodies of the extremists and spectators who were killed.
And in 2007 the parade was effectively ambushed by another parade, led by adult entertainment entrepreneur Steve Crow. Motorbikes and convertible cars carrying naked women became intermingled with Christmas floats, much to the horror of parents of young children looking on.
But Auckland Mayor Len Brown, who took part in yesterday’s parade and also the brawl, said he did not want to see the event cancelled.
“It is an Auckland tradition. Every year we have problems, but people keep coming back. People are mature enough to know that in any public event like this one you’re going to get a few incidents.
“And this year the number of people stabbed to death by parade participants was only thirty-five. That’s a record low.”