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Watch: Missing Marokopa dad spotted three times in stolen ute in Waikato

Author
NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 3 Aug 2023, 11:38AM

Watch: Missing Marokopa dad spotted three times in stolen ute in Waikato

Author
NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 3 Aug 2023, 11:38AM

The father of missing Marokopa children Tom Phillips has been sighted three times yesterday, police say.

Phillips and his three children Jayda, Maverick and Ember were reported missing from Marokopa by family on January 18, 2022.

At a 2pm press conference, police said a stolen 2003 bronze-coloured Toyota Hilux, believed to have been driven by Tom Phillips, was spotted yesterday.

Inspector Will Loughrin said Phillips was spotted in a Bunnings Warehouse carpark at Te Rapa.

Police tried to find the vehicle with help from the Eagle helicopter but couldn’t locate it, Loughrin said.

Police have been working on this inquiry with the “sole focus of bringing [the children] home”, he said.

Yesterday’s sightings were the first of Phillips since 2022.

“We believe there are people in the community who know where Tom is,” Loughrin said. “And we believe they are assisting him,” he said.

 “The family are desperately missing them. For anyone with information about the Toyota ute, we ask them to report current sightings to 111 and any historical sightings to the 105 number.

Lougrin confirmed Jayda was now aged 10, Maverick, 8, Ember 7 and Phillips 36.

Loughrin said the vehicle held the key to tracking down the missing family.

“This is the best piece of information we’ve received in some time. We need to find that vehicle,” Lougrin said. “We need the public’s support to find that vehicle.”

Phillips had changed his appearance and police would be releasing information about his updated look.

Missing man Tom Phillips has been sighted in a brown/bronze 2003 Toyota Hilux flat-deck ute (pictured) on State Highway 31 in the Kawhia area. Photo / NZ Police

Missing man Tom Phillips has been sighted in a brown/bronze 2003 Toyota Hilux flat-deck ute (pictured) on State Highway 31 in the Kawhia area. Photo / NZ Police

Phillips was in an altercation in Kawhia, which was reported to police, who launched a response to find him.

“We believe that car was involved [in the altercation],” Lougrin said.

The incident in Kawhia happened at 6.45pm. The ute was stolen, he said.

The person who saw Phillips in the Bunnings carpark was known to him and gave police a “detailed” account of what happened.

There were three separate sightings yesterday, Loughrin confirmed.

The first at 12.30pm south of Te Awamutu at Pokuru.

The next was at 4pm at Bunnings Warehouse carpark at Te Rapa.

The third was at 6.45pm in Kawhia where Phillips got into an altercation with another man.

Phillips’ movements yesterday afternoon cover a 125km/h journey from Pokuru to Te Rapa and back to Kawhia.

Inspector Will Loughrin  is leading the investigation into missing Marokopa family. Photo / Mike Scott

Inspector Will Loughrin is leading the investigation into missing Marokopa family. Photo / Mike Scott

He said there was an increased police presence in Kawhia, and this would remain as they followed up any information they received.

“Do the right thing. Bring the kids home,” Lougrin said, addressing Phillips.

“Tom, we need you to come in and speak to us and resolve this. Eighteen months is too long. The kids need to see their parents, their mother, and their grandparents.

He said police were speaking to people associated with Phillips and would continue speaking with them.

“We’ve always said we believe Tom has had help.”

Loughrin said police had considered all possibilities, including that Phillips was camping. Police were focused on the west Waikato coast, he said.

Earlier, a private investigator who was employed by the children’s family said the sightings lined up with his theory the family would be within 80-100km of Phillip’s parents’ place.

Chris Budge, who was now working on the case in his own time, said it was great news for the family and he wouldn’t be too worried the children were not with him.

He was confident Phillips and the kids had been staying and working on farms in the area. He was made aware of a sighting on a farm near Otorohanga in May last year which was passed on to the police, however nothing came of it.

“As time has gone by, maybe he’s thinking that people have forgotten about me - being a bit cocky. Maybe he’s grown a beard or he’s looking slightly different and on that basis he thinks he can come out into the wider world and not be seen.”

As for why he’s kept working the case, Budge said it was “just one of those things I felt was necessary.

“I’m an older person who has investigative skills who feels that it’s not fair and it’s not right that these kids aren’t participating in their wider family - their grandparents, their mother, their siblings - and their normal social contact with a normal child’s life and education.

“So I’ve just, when I’ve been able to, I’ve gone up there a few times. I’ve spoken to the locals. I’ll pass the information on to the police and hopefully something has been helpful.”

Inspector Will Loughrin said they had responded and made numerous area inquiries, however, were unable to locate Phillips.

“Officers will be following up in the area today, speaking with locals, and continue to appeal to anyone who may have information to come forward to the police.”

Police are urgently seeking sightings of the ute, Loughrin said.

“Our priority is, and has always been, working to locate Tom and the children to ensure their welfare, and we have continued to follow up on information reported to us where relevant.”

Police are also urging anyone who might have any information, no matter how small, to please come forward to them.

This afternoon, Paul Phillips, the uncle of the missing man, told the Herald, “out of respect for Tom and his safety there is nothing that I can say.”

Tom, Jayda, Maverick and Ember Phillips have been missing since January 2022. Photo / Supplied

Tom, Jayda, Maverick and Ember Phillips have been missing since January 2022. Photo / Supplied

Phillips and his three young children first went missing around September 11, 2021.

massive operation ensued to find the Waikato family with serious concerns raised for their wellbeing.

The three-week-long search for the missing Marokopa family began with the discovery of Phillip’s ute below the high tide mark on Kiritehere Beach.

Police and emergency services - as well as hundreds of locals and volunteers - spent days searching for the family across Kiritehere and Marokopa.

They returned to their family farm 18 days later with relatives revealing they spent the time in the dense bush living in a tent.

After being reunited with their family, Phillips and the children again disappeared with their last sighting on December 9, 2021.

On January 12, 2022, Phillips failed to show up for his court appearance on a charge of causing wasteful deployment of police personnel and resources after going missing for the first time around.

His no-show in court sparked a warrant for his arrest to be issued.

The family members had since hired a private investigator to aid in finding them and offered a $10,000 bounty for any information on their whereabouts.

Speaking to the Herald earlier this year, the children’s half-sister Jubilee Dawson expressed her frustration.

“He should drop the kids back and then go back into the bush and do what he wants,” she said.

Former military and police officer Chris Budge has been investigating the disappearance since last year.

He told the Herald he had received a call of a possible sighting of Phillips and the children and another call from a person who had overheard information about their possible whereabouts.

He said a woman believed she saw Phillips and the children at a central North Island service station and said this information had been passed on to police. Budge said the woman also called 105.

Budge said he contacted the service station chain to ensure they would secure any CCTV footage that could help police.

Meanwhile, Budge said a woman travelling on a train in Waikato overheard a conversation that she believed related to the whereabouts of the family. “People are keeping their eye, people are thinking about it and certainly looking at a male and three kids. All we can ask is that they keep doing that and hopefully the police can put those jigsaw puzzles together,” he said.

Budge urged Phillips to give him a call and said he was willing to help him work everything out.

“If you’re out there, Tom, or somebody sees the article, give us a call and I will help mediate something. There’s no benefit to me in any way shape or form, it’s all about the kids,” he said.

“There is a way out of this, absolutely.”

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