Police only yesterday discovered evidence they say links missing Marokopa man Tom Phillips to a bank robbery in Te Kūiti in May.
Police have charged Phillips, missing since December 2021, with aggravated robbery, aggravated wounding and unlawfully possessing a firearm over the armed heist of ANZ Te Kūiti on Rora St. A supermarket worker was also shot at during the incident.
Police this morning would not reveal specifically how they knew Phillips was behind the robbery heist.
Police said they do not know whether the woman at the back of the bike, seen in a photo taken near the time of the alleged heist, was one of Phillips’ children.
Police charged Phillips over the robbery “as soon as [they] had sufficient evidence” to say it was him, which was yesterday.
“We’ve always had a high level of concern for [the children’s] welfare.”
“People in the community who just think he’s a good dad... we would encourage them to look at this new information.”
Phillips did have a firearms license which has been revoked, police confirmed.
Acting Detective Inspector Andrew Saunders this morning would not discuss whether it was the woman or Phillips who fired shots during the robbery.
“No one was actually physically injured in that robbery.”
“Our main focus is finding these children and ensuring their safety.
Inspector Saunders said every piece of information they get will be followed up on.
Support for the police search has been “mixed” Saunders admitted.
The news about Phillips being involved in the robbery came as a shock to the Phillips family, especially for the mother of the children.
Saunders said people shouldn’t “take action” if they see Phillips as he “still potentially has firearms in his possession”.
Saunders said police had been investigating the robbery in May and “recent developments in our ongoing inquiries have led police to charge Mr Phillips”.
“We are yet to identify the other person involved, but believe they are female,” Saunders said, referring to a second person seen on the back of a motorbike with Phillips.
Waikato Police investigating an aggravated robbery in Te Kūiti from May have now obtained a warrant to arrest missing Marokopa dad Tom Phillips. Photo / NZ Police
ANZ Bank on Rora Street in Te Kūiti and Tom Phillips. Photo / Google
Two people entered a bank on Rora St, Te Kūiti, Waikato, and demanded cash, Saunders said.
The pair then fled the scene on a black, farm-style motorcycle, Saunders said.
“We are yet to identify the other person involved,” he said.
The aggravated robbery, which saw a nearby supermarket worker shot at, occurred on May 16.
A local radio station, MFM Te Reo o Te Iwi, reported a gunshot had been heard near the bank during the robbery, and said it also understood a man was shot at.
Witnesses told the Herald two men, wearing all black and motorcycle helmets, entered the bank branch and were asked by ANZ staff to remove their helmets, which is when the robbery began.
The search for 36-year-old Phillips and his children, Jayda, Maverick and Ember, 10, 8, and 7 respectively, was reinvigorated after recent sightings - the first in 17 months.
A witness said the offenders, one short and the other tall, fled the bank “with $50 notes flying everywhere”.
Following the assailants fleeing the scene, armed police and detectives arrived, the witness said.
A dog unit also patrolled the area and guards were posted outside the bank.
The Herald approached ANZ for comment, but a spokeswoman said, “I can’t provide any comment while police are investigating”.
Police concerned about Phillips’ children’s welfare
Saunders said police remained concerned about the welfare of Phillips’ three children.
After a flurry of sightings last month, which led to officers finding a ute Phillips allegedly stole, police “have been scanning all reports of possible sightings”, Inspector Will Loughrin said.
The search for 36-year-old Phillips and his children, Jayda, Maverick and Ember, 10, 8, and 7 respectively, was reinvigorated after the sightings - the first in 17 months.
Saunders has again asked for information from the public about Phillips’ whereabouts, saying people should report sightings to 111 and quote file number 230516/7295.
Waikato police boosted the number of officers on the ground searching for Phillips last month and asked locals and hunters for help.
After a flurry of sightings last month, which led to officers finding a ute Phillips allegedly stole, police 'have been scanning all reports of possible sightings', Inspector Will Loughrin said.
Loughrin said police wanted the Waikato community to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity. He urged locals to report thefts of fuel, food and other supplies.
He asked hunters to report “any signs of people being present in unusual or remote areas”.
Given Philips was disguising himself with a beanie and facemask while in public, “we need people to stay alert and to contact police immediately if they become suspicious”, Loughrin said.
But Phillips will keep hiding with his three children “as long as he can”, his cousin said earlier.
Phillips’ cousin, Trevor Neal, told Newshub: “As long as the kids are fine - I’d say they are, otherwise somebody would have heard something by now.”
Phillips’ cousin, Trevor Neal, said: 'As long as the kids are fine - I’d say they are, otherwise somebody would have heard something by now.'
“He could [still] be [in the area]. I don’t know,” Neal said.
Phillips’ trip to Bunnings was one of four sightings: the first at 12.30pm in Pokuru, south of Te Awamutu, the second between 3pm and 4pm at Bunnings on Kahikatea Dr and the third at 4pm at another Bunnings in Te Rapa, Hamilton.
The fourth sighting of Phillips was in Kāwhia at 6.45pm, where he was involved in an altercation with a member of the public. Police believed he was driving a stolen Toyota Hilux captured on security footage.
The owner of the ute was involved in the altercation, pursuing Phillips while he was driving the vehicle and trying to run him off the road, Newshub reported.
Inspector Loughrin said police received a report and responded immediately to the Kāwhia area but were unable to find the ute - even with the help of the police helicopter.
The owner discovered winter clothes and other items missing from their property that would be useful for a stay in the bush, Newshub reported.
Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.
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