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A life of crime, tragedy and regret: He saw police fatally shoot his best mate; years later he killed a teen girl in crash

Author
Open Justice,
Publish Date
Sat, 14 May 2022, 9:08am
Kevin Bishell's life of crime has seen him involved in two deaths. Photo / Tara Shaskey
Kevin Bishell's life of crime has seen him involved in two deaths. Photo / Tara Shaskey

A life of crime, tragedy and regret: He saw police fatally shoot his best mate; years later he killed a teen girl in crash

Author
Open Justice,
Publish Date
Sat, 14 May 2022, 9:08am

A life of crime has led one man to witness the fatal police shooting of his best friend, and tragically to kill a teenage girl. He sits down with Tara Shaskey, breaking his silence on the highly-publicised cases and his journey into an unlawful existence.

Grabbing a fistful of lollies, Kevin Bishell stuffed them into his pocket and bolted from the dairy - his sticky-fingered act going completely undetected.

That was the then 8-year-old's first time breaking the law and as he chowed down on his ill-gotten sweets, he began to grow a taste for dishonesty.

The petty thefts continued and back then it could have been perceived as only a developmental stage in Bishell's life. A child with poor impulse control who just really, really wanted lollies.

But that wasn't the case. It was the beginning of a life of lawlessness and as Bishell grew, so too did the severity of his offending and his trail of devastation.

Now, the 41-year-old's name is synonymous with death and crime.

But is he the career criminal he has been described as throughout the years? He claims no. A victim of circumstance and of his own bad luck, he says. Though, in many cases, the facts show Bishell was the architect of his own undoing.

Currently, the Taranaki beneficiary looks a healthier version of the person he was when seen many times standing in a courtroom dock.

He is relaxed, reading through parole documents from under the peak of his cap. He slumps into the back of his seat, attentive and open to being asked anything.

His responses are polite but short and he returns a tight-lipped, almost mischievous smile the few times he decides against answering.

"Yeah, I'm all good, eh," he says from his brother's multi-car garage in Waitara, north of central New Plymouth.

"Just been laying low, eh. Just keeping out of the spotlight."

Bishell has spent much of his adult years collecting burglary, drug, and driving convictions. He's served at least four prison sentences and has featured heavily in the media for his high-profile offending.

One of the most publicised cases he was involved in saw a botched burglary culminate in a fatal shooting.

Adam Morehu and his partner, Kaly Gilbert. Photo/ Supplied

Adam Morehu and his partner, Kaly Gilbert. Photo/ Supplied

In the early hours of June 8, 2013, Bishell found himself in the snarly clutch of a police dog's jaw after he and his best friend and co-offender, Adam Morehu, smashed their way into New Plymouth Golf Club.

Armed police arrived at the scene, and Morehu was shot dead on the fairway by an officer.

His death brought to an end a series of crimes committed by the pair, including the 2012 Christmas Day armed robbery of Treehouse Bar and Restaurant and the burglary of Chipmunks Playland, which occurred only hours before they broke into the golf club.

Bishell was jailed for four years and eight months for his involvement in the spree and when he was eventually released on parole, he reoffended.

And again, the outcome was tragic.

On August 28, 2018, Bishell was travelling along State Highway 3, just south of Waitara, when he attempted a passing manoeuvre and crossed the centre line.

He collided head-on with a car being driven by 18-year-old Olivia Keightley-Trigg. She died at the scene and he was jailed for two years and six months for driving dangerously causing death and for refusing a request for a blood sample.

Bishell says the two events have changed his life forever.

Not a day passes where he doesn't think of Morehu and Keightley-Trigg, he says. In those moments he feels both sorrow and regret.

"It's something you never forget about."

Olivia Keightley-Trigg died in a head-on crash in August 2018. Photo / Supplied

Olivia Keightley-Trigg died in a head-on crash in August 2018. Photo / Supplied

Though it has not been officially diagnosed, Bishell says he now suffers complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

He's tried to get help for his mental health but says it's been too hard - too hard to get an appointment with the "right people" and too hard to navigate the health system with his diagnosed dyslexia.

And when things get too hard for Bishell, he admits he gives up.

But it's difficult to know how much of an inclination he actually has to engage with health professionals.

"They couldn't help me," he says of an alcohol and drug addiction programme he twice attended at the hospital after he was released from jail in September last year.

"It's my mindset. I didn't really want to do it 'because that's not what I promised," he says.

"The biggest thing was me, because there's nothing in it for me."

Promises were made to Keightley-Trigg's family by Bishell to attend a programme, but he says there was a dispute about when and where that would take place.

He claims to have now held up his end of the bargain after having two sessions with a Waitara-based addiction counsellor of his choosing. Keightley-Trigg's family declined to comment.

He will always be a drug addict, Bishell says, and "getting clean" has to be a choice.

"You can choose to do all the programmes in the world, they can give you all the tools in the world. But it's a personal choice at the end of the day."

In January this year, he appeared in court after he breached a release condition by testing positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine and cannabis.

He was sentenced to 12 months' intensive supervision.

Presently, he "doesn't really do any drugs anymore" but also "might have the odd slip-up".

Many of Bishell's statements are inconsistent.

On the death of Keightley-Trigg, he expresses what seems to be genuine remorse.

"I was shattered," he quietly says of the moment he learned she had died.

He was at the hospital being treated for injuries he sustained in the crash, including a fractured sternum and a concussion when police arrived to deliver the news and arrest him.

"I do accept responsibility, and I did from the word go," he says.

"I f***ed up, I was there, it doesn't really matter what happened. I accepted responsibility for my actions."

But then he disputed driving dangerously, undermining the accountability he conveyed only moments prior and the summary of facts he admitted to and was sentenced on.

Olivia Keightley-Trigg with her mum, Suzie, and dad, Shaun. Photo / Supplied

Olivia Keightley-Trigg with her mum, Suzie, and dad, Shaun. Photo / Supplied

He swears he wasn't on drugs at the time of the crash but whether he's being truthful is something only he will ever know because he refused to be tested and instead demanded to speak to a lawyer.

Bishell says he is committed to completing everything Keightley-Trigg's family requested of him through the Restorative Justice process.

Then he mentions another of the promises - completing a defensive driving programme - and he wavers. He's not sure he wants to pay for it.

Bishell was livid when he got out of jail for the teen's death and was slapped with an ankle bracelet for his six months of release conditions.

He says it was "another sentence of incarceration".

An early release on parole had been declined and at the time of his sentence expiry date, the Parole Board considered he was still an undue risk.

Another of his release conditions was to not enter New Plymouth or Waitara, where Keightley-Trigg's family live, but Bishell appealed that, arguing that was where his family, his support system, was based.

A compromise was reached and Bishell was then allowed to enter New Plymouth, serving the six months at his 87-year-old grandmother's address.

His conditions expired around March and he has since returned to Waitara where he lives with his brother.

He's fond of the small township and has no plans to leave the place he now calls home.

It's a notably different sentiment that he expresses towards Urutī, about 31km from Waitara, where he resided from age 10 to 16.

Bishell dubbed it a "bad community" and curiously says it was not a good age for him to move there.

He won't explain why but reveals that was when the thieving really began.

Perhaps it's in those years that an explanation can be found for the crooked path Bishell chose to wander.

One of four children, he says he was the only lawbreaker and describes a "normal" childhood with many opportunities and much guidance.

"I don't know," Bishell said, shrugging when asked what went wrong. "I had a good upbringing, really."

He spent his earliest years in Bell Block, about 6km from central New Plymouth, where he lived with his mum, dad, and siblings.

Around age 8, the family packed up and crossed the Ditch to live a gypsy lifestyle, tripping across Australia for a near three-year holiday.

Kevin Bishell was sentenced to two years and six months' jail when he appeared in court in November 2019 for the death of Olivia Keightley-Trigg. Photo / RNZ

Kevin Bishell was sentenced to two years and six months' jail when he appeared in court in November 2019 for the death of Olivia Keightley-Trigg. Photo / RNZ

It was there that he began pocketing lollies during their stops at the dairies. He says his parents never suspected a thing.

When they returned to New Zealand, they moved to Urutī and Bishell says at age 11 he would venture out alone on his farm bike.

"I'd go riding around the community and then get accused of stealing s***," he says, swearing that he wasn't and that he didn't know why fingers were pointed at him.

"And then what happens? They start accusing you, so f***, you may as well just do it. Going to get accused of doing this s***, you may as well just do it."

So, he did. But he wouldn't let slip the specifics, only to say it was "petty s***" and that he's "never been into robbing houses".

Bishell spent his intermediate years at the rural town's school before moving on to New Plymouth's Spotswood College for his high school years.

But school wasn't for him and he was kicked out in Fourth Form, now Year 10, saying he only ever turned up to eat his lunch.

He went on to attend the local Activity Centre, a specialised learning programme for at-risk youths, and there he was introduced to people on a similar trajectory to himself.

Then at age 16, tragedy struck Bishell. His mum died suddenly after suffering a brain haemorrhage.

New Plymouth District Court has become a familiar place for Kevin Bishell throughout the years. Photo / Tara Shaskey

New Plymouth District Court has become a familiar place for Kevin Bishell throughout the years. Photo / Tara Shaskey

It was a traumatic experience for him. They were close and he says losing her is something he still hasn't dealt with today.

Immediately after her funeral he packed up and left the family home to take up a farming job he had accepted before her death.

Bishell was a farmworker for a number of years and also did a course in fencing at Taranaki Work Trust.

It was there that he met Morehu, who was on a mechanics course at the time.

The pair hit it off and so began a friendship that evolved into partners in crime and would ultimately put Bishell's loyalty to the test.

In 2006, then 25, he took the blame for the burglary of the House of Karen, a holiday home for terminally-ill patients.

Both he and Morehu were charged for the thousands of dollars worth of electrical equipment that was stolen but Bishell refused to testify against his mate.

"I took the rap," he says.

"My bro just had his first child, just had his son. There's no point in two people going to jail."

Morehu walked free and Bishell, who was found with the goods, was jailed for 13 months.

But that was okay, he says. "You don't nark against anybody."

Kaly Gilbert, Adam Morehu's partner, sat at the police cordon at New Plymouth Golf Club, hours after Morehu was fatally shot. Photo / Rob Tucker

Kaly Gilbert, Adam Morehu's partner, sat at the police cordon at New Plymouth Golf Club, hours after Morehu was fatally shot. Photo / Rob Tucker

It's his loyalty that gets him in trouble, he reckons.

"I'd help anybody . . . in a way my best trait is my worst trait."

Morehu was always the instigator, Bishell claims. And while his mate is unable to say otherwise, a judge once accepted Bishell was a bit of a tag-along in Morehu's escapades.

Before the pair arrived at the golf club together on a motorcycle, Bishell claims he tried to talk Morehu out of the burglary.

"I regret that he didn't listen. I tried to tell him no," he says. "But once he's set that's it."

The shooting of Morehu "f***ed his life up", he bluntly states. And he attributes that to police, claiming they had "murdered" his friend.

But the Independent Police Conduct Authority found the actions taken by the police that night were justified.

The blame is a common theme in how Bishell tells his story. Police, probation, parole – in some way they have all had a role in his undoing, or so he insists.

He doesn't want anything more to do with the authorities and wants "out of the system."

It's unclear whether that means he plans to stop reoffending, or he just hopes to not get caught.

"I just want to get on with my life. That's all I want to do really."

Time will tell whether that will include any future appearances in a courtroom dock, but for now, Bishell says "hopefully not".

- Tara Shaskey, Open Justice