Police have revealed the items the father of the missing Marokopa children bought during recent sightings of him at Waikato hardware stores, which indicate he may have set up a campsite.
A flurry of sightings of 36-year-old Tom Phillips was reported on Wednesday, August 2 at two Bunnings stores in Waikato.
Police said a large amount of cash was used to buy items, which suggested he might have set up a campsite.
The items included headlamps, batteries, seedlings, buckets and gumboots.
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.
It was earlier confirmed the sightings led to officers finding a ute Phillips allegedly stole, police “have been scanning all reports of possible sightings”, Inspector Will Loughrin said.
Phillips was seen in the early afternoon shopping for equipment at Bunnings South on Kahikatea Drive. He was spotted at Te Rapa’s Bunnings later that afternoon, at 4pm, where he made additional purchases.
Tom Phillips and his three children Jayda, Maverick and Ember were reported missing from Marokopa by family on 18 January 2022.
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He was also spotted in Kāwhia, 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.
Photos released by the police of the ute show four 20-litre water storage containers, a red plastic fuel can, two rolls of plastic mesh and six 20L Bunnings buckets — all of which are listed for sale on the store’s website — in the back of the ute as he drove out just after 4pm.
On 2 August, police received reports of sightings of Tom Phillips at the Te Rapa Bunnings carpark.
All available lines of enquiry are being followed, police confirmed, and police are continuing to urge anyone with information to come forward.
“We also urge people not to take any action themselves – to call 111 with immediate or current information or 105 for past information that needs to be followed up,” a police spokesperson said
“Please cite file number 211218/5611.”
Because 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.
An increased police presence was to be expected in the Waikato area after the sightings, and police asked hunters to be to report “any signs of people being present in unusual or remote areas”.
When Phillips and his children first went missing, their disappearance sparked a huge ground, sea and air search, with family at home fearing the worst as the father’s grey Toyota Hilux was found on the beach with waves crashing against it.
They returned home after 17 days, and in October, police charged Phillips with wasteful deployment of police resources.
But Phillips didn’t show up at the Te Kūiti District Court for his first appearance on January 12, 2022.
A warrant was then issued for his arrest.
Rachel Maher is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. She has worked for the Herald since 2022.
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