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Missing Marokopa family: Police issue fresh appeal as search continues

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 5 Aug 2023, 9:29AM

Missing Marokopa family: Police issue fresh appeal as search continues

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 5 Aug 2023, 9:29AM

The search for missing Marokopa man Tom Phillips and his three children will continue today after Phillips was sighted three times in Waikato this week.

And police have this morning issued an appeal for locals to report any activity they may deem “suspicious” to them, and told them to expect heightened police presence in the area.

“Police would like to thank the public for information received, following appeals for information in the last few days. Investigators are now working through information received,” Waikato District Commander Superintendent Bruce Bird said.

“South Waikato people may see an increased police presence in and around the area, as Police conduct reassurance patrols and the investigation continues.

At this time neither Tom nor the children have been located.

“We urge anyone with information to contact Police. We believe Tom is going to some effort to conceal his identity, so please let us know of any suspicious activity so that we can follow-up.”

Inspector Will Loughrin had previously told media that Phillips was seen with a stolen 2003 bronze-coloured Toyota Hilux in Kawhia on three occasions on Wednesday.

The first was in the Pokuru area near Te Awamutu around 12.30pm on Wednesday.

There had been a further confirmed sighting of Phillips at two Bunnings stores, the first at Bunnings South on Kahikatea Dr between 3pm and 4pm.

The Toyota Hilux ute Tom Phillips was seen driving on Wednesday has been recovered by police but he continues to elude efforts to be found.The Toyota Hilux ute Tom Phillips was seen driving on Wednesday has been recovered by police but he continues to elude efforts to be found.

The upset owners and their friends posted a photo of the ute on community Facebook pages that same day asking for people to report sightings of the vehicle, which they said was stolen from Honikiwi Rd during the day. Loughrin said the vehicle was spotted in Kawhia three times on Wednesday.

The first was in the Pokuru area near Te Awamutu around 12.30pm on Wednesday.

There had been a further confirmed sighting of Phillips at two Bunnings stores, the first at Bunnings South on Kahikatea Drive between 3pm and 4pm.

Phillips was then seen at Bunnings in Te Rapa at 4pm by someone who knew him.

The same ute was then seen in Kawhia around 6.45pm, where Phillips was involved in an altercation with a group of locals who tried to stop him.

The ute owner was one of those involved in the altercation and tried to run Phillips off the road, Newshub reported.

He was then seen at Bunnings in Te Rapa at 4pm by someone who knew him.

The same ute was then seen in Kawhia around 6.45pm, where Phillips was involved in an altercation with a group of locals who tried to stop him.

The ute has since been recovered, police have confirmed.

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

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

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

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

He said Phillips was disguising himself in public and released security footage from his shopping excursion to Bunnings wearing a beanie, glasses and a surgical mask.

Missing father Tom Phillips has disguised himself while shopping at Bunnings. Photo / NZ PoliceMissing father Tom Phillips has disguised himself while shopping at Bunnings. Photo / NZ Police

Photos released by the police from the store’s carpark show four 20L 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.

Two of the buckets are upright with lids on them and the other buckets are lying down in a stack, but appear to have other objects inside.

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

A massive operation ensued to find the Waikato family amid 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, relatives revealing they spent the time in the dense bush living in a tent.

Jayda Phillips, Ember Phillips and Maverick Callum-Phillips. The three children and their father Tom Phillips have been missing since December 2021. Photo / NZ PoliceJayda Phillips, Ember Phillips and Maverick Callum-Phillips. The three children and their father Tom Phillips have been missing since December 2021. Photo / NZ Police

After being reunited with their family, Phillips and the children again disappeared. Their last sighting was 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.

Inspector Will Loughrin is leading the investigation into missing Marokopa family Tom Phillips, Jayda, Maverick and Ember. Photo / Mike ScottInspector Will Loughrin is leading the investigation into missing Marokopa family Tom Phillips, Jayda, Maverick and Ember. Photo / Mike Scott

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 the 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.”

  • Police are urging anyone who may have any information, no matter how small, to please come forward. If it is happening now, call 111 and quote file number 211218/5611.

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