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Witnesses say they may have seen body in Gulf Harbour water a day earlier

Author
Ben Leahy,
Publish Date
Wed, 13 Mar 2024, 1:50pm

Witnesses say they may have seen body in Gulf Harbour water a day earlier

Author
Ben Leahy,
Publish Date
Wed, 13 Mar 2024, 1:50pm

Tourists parked in a camper van at Auckland’s Gulf Harbour where a body was found in a plastic bag say they also noticed something large floating in the water a day earlier.

The Kiwi couple said they had looked at the object from the shoreline but hadn’t known what it was.

A huge wind had blown into the gulf on Monday, bringing logs and debris into the harbour, they said.

Retiree fisherman Paul Middleton would then reel in a grisly find a day later when he used his fishing gear to hook a “big lump” in the water that ultimately contained human remains.

An Irish tourist - who had been parked in a campervan next to Middleton’s - today told the Herald the retiree hooked the body around 3pm.

Fisherman Paul Middleton hands over his lure to police after finding human remains wrapped in plastic bags in Gulf Harbour. RNZ / Nick Monro
Fisherman Paul Middleton hands over his lure to police after finding human remains wrapped in plastic bags in Gulf Harbour. RNZ / Nick Monro

Middleton had been fishing from rocks on the coast. He then dragged the object up on to the rocks, but not further out of the water because it was too heavy, the tourist said.

Once Middleton unwrapped the plastic around it and found a human hand, he returned to his nearby camper and phoned police.

A first police car responded quickly, then as more cars showed up, officers positioned their vehicles in such a way as to block off view of the body, the tourist said.

Another international couple parked next to Middleton - who left the campground this morning - said police took a statement from the fisherman and then left the scene by about 6pm yesterday.

They took Middleton’s fishing line and lure as part of their investigations but let him keep his rod, they said.

The Kiwi couple, meanwhile, described Middleton as a “down to earth fisherman”, who handled the gruesome discovery well.

They said Middleton had told them that after noticing a big lump floating near to where he was fishing, he wondered why none of the passing boats stopped to check it out.

Then when it floated closer he tried to hook it, but also kept casting close to it, thinking that fish might be swimming around it.

The couple said the RV campsite had been peaceful the last few days they had been staying at it with nothing suspicious taking place.

They also hoped the grisly find might at least bring closure to a family, who had been dealing with the grief of having a missing loved one.

Another traveller at the campsite said it was a sad discovery.

”It’s sad, it’s someone’s son or daughter or maybe even mother or father,” he said.

Police at Gulf Harbour after fisherman Paul Middleton pulled human remains from the water yesterday. RNZ / Nick Monro
Police at Gulf Harbour after fisherman Paul Middleton pulled human remains from the water yesterday. RNZ / Nick Monro

Acting Detective Inspector Tim Williams earlier said the investigation remained “at the very early stages” as police worked to identify the body.

“The body has been recovered from the water and a post-mortem examination is expected to begin later today. Police have finished our inquiries at the scene with our cordons being stood down,” he said.

“Our priority is to establish the identity of the deceased and what has led to their death.”

Williams said police had spoken with people who were in the area at the time the body was found.

“We would also encourage any residents in the nearby coastal area that saw anything suspicious to contact us.”

The Gulf Harbour was quiet this morning after police finished their inquiries. Photo / Michael Craig
The Gulf Harbour was quiet this morning after police finished their inquiries. Photo / Michael Craig

People were back fishing after a man fished a body out of the water yesterday. Photo / Michael Craig
People were back fishing after a man fished a body out of the water yesterday. Photo / Michael Craig

‘We’ve got a body’

Middleton has described the moment he pulled the bag of human remains out of the harbour.

He said he was in the Whangaparāoa area to do some fishing, trying to catch some decent-sized kahawai or snapper.

He had gone to Army Bay in the morning but had not found many fish so went to try around the ferry terminal.

“I [cast] my lure out ... and nothing much was happening, but there was a bag out there.”

He said that, at the time, he did not know it was a bag, and thought it was a log or a dead animal. Boats had been passing through the area, near the entrance to the marina, he said.

“Anyway, the wind changed and brought it into the coast. Anything floating in the water brings fish around, so I was targeting it. I got that perfect shot, like millimetres to the side of it.”

He hooked it and pulled it into the shore - it was heavy but easy to move - and managed to pull it up the rocks a little.

“I took the hook out and thought, ‘Right, let’s see if it’s a bag of rubbish and I need to dump it in a rubbish bin or something’.”

Paul Middleton hands over his fishing rod to police for the investigation. Photo / Nick Monro, RNZ
Paul Middleton hands over his fishing rod to police for the investigation. Photo / Nick Monro, RNZ

He struggled through “layer and layer” of plastic to open the bag.

There was “a bit of clothing ... and then there was this hand sticking out”.

It was at that point that he called police.

“Two cops turned up and they thought I’d actually said there’s just a hand in a bag and then they went down there and went, ‘Oh no we’ve got a body’,” Middleton said.

A hearse took away the human remains found near the Gulf Harbour ferry terminal. Photo / Nick Monro, RNZ
A hearse took away the human remains found near the Gulf Harbour ferry terminal. Photo / Nick Monro, RNZ

Middleton said he did not try to open the bag further once he discovered the hand.

Police confirmed that a body had been found in the water near Laurie Southwick Parade on Tuesday afternoon.

They were treating the death as unexplained and the area was cordoned off while officers made inquiries in the nearby area, they said.

There was no immediate risk to the public in relation to this death, said police.

Police have urged anyone with information to contact police on 105 or go online using the ‘update my report’ function and use reference file number 240312/9837.

- Additional reporting by RNZ

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