Live now
Start time
Playing for
End time
Listen live
Up next
Listen live on

Missing Marokopa children: Police tried to get other family members to join appeal

Azaria Howell,
Publish Date
Wed, 10 Jul 2024, 12:50pm

Missing Marokopa children: Police tried to get other family members to join appeal

Azaria Howell,
Publish Date
Wed, 10 Jul 2024, 12:50pm

- Tom Phillips and his three children have been missing since December 2021. 

- An $80,000 reward was recently offered by police for information that would lead to their safe return. 

- The mother of the children spoke out for the first time during the reward period, with police confirming it was her choice to break her silence. 

- Extra police officers were stationed in areas of interest during two weeks in June but Phillips and his children remain missing. 

Police have confirmed they spoke to members of Tom Phillips’ family about joining a public appeal for information to try find him and his three missing children, but only their mother decided to speak out. 

Last month, police ramped up search efforts in Marokopa and surrounding areas for the missing family.  

An $80,000 reward was offered for two weeks in June in return for information leading to the safe return of the children.  

It expired at midnight on June 25 with no sign of the fugitive father or his kids, but 50 tips that police deemed “worthy of consideration” came from the public.  

During the reward period, Cat - the mother of Ember, Maverick and Jayda Phillips - pleaded for help to find her children, in a video released by police. 

It was the first time she had spoken publicly since the family disappeared in December 2021. 

The video was released the day Jayda, the eldest child, turned 11, with her mum pleading for fugitive dad Tom to “bring my babies home”. 

“They are just innocent children, they do not deserve to be treated this way. They do not deserve the life that is being provided to them right now,” she said, adding that what Phillips was doing was “not okay”. 

The Herald can reveal police did not pay Cat to speak out. 

In an Official Information Act request, most of which was declined, police said it “does not pay people to do media appeals and police did nothing to encourage the mother to speak out”. 

“A media appeal had previously been discussed with the mother, and it was her decision to do this once the reward was posted.” 

In the same response, police revealed it wasn’t just the children’s mother they had approached, confirming other members of Tom Phillips’ family had been spoken to about “doing a media appeal for information”. 

“However, due to privacy and as this is part of an ongoing investigation, police cannot comment on who that is.” 

In her video, Cat said “My babies deserve better. I am just a mother standing here in front of the world begging you here to help me bring my babies home. 

“Please, if anybody has any information at all, call the police.” 

On the day of the video, acting Detective Inspector Andrew Saunders said police “are committed to getting a result as soon as possible”. 

The mother released a letter on social media, a day later, which she claims was written by Tom Phillips. It is unclear when the letter itself was written.  

The letter stated: “I don’t know what to say or do to help you forgive me”.  

It ends saying: “I know I used to make you happy, I know I can make you happy again if you let me. We get on so well most of the time and we are an awesome couple. We have an awesome family and that’s worth fighting for”.  

In the week before the mother’s appeal, officers had been conducting police checkpoints around the rural Waikato town. Motorists were stopped by police, with licenses checked and questions asked.  

The police Eagle helicopter had scoured the region, and residents were informed there would be an increased police presence in the area.  

The response was scaled back after the reward period expired. 

Saunders said police would continue to have a dedicated investigation team assessing information and conducting follow-up enquiries. 

Police confirmed more than 150 reports of information were made throughout the appeal period, via phone, email, or in-person to officers. 

“As a result of our enquiries we have identified over 50 reports that we think are worthy of consideration and which are being investigated further,” Saunders said, as the reward period wrapped up. 

He confirmed officers were focusing on “several locations of interest in Western Waikato”. 

In an update to the Herald today, police said the investigation team is continuing to assess new information. 

“The last sighting that police believe was Tom Phillips was 2 November 2023 from CCTV the attempted burglary at Piopio store,” police said. 

Police are looking for Tom Phillips after the wanted man and one of his children were captured on CCTV smashing the window of a business in Piopio. Photo / NZ PolicePolice are looking for Tom Phillips after the wanted man and one of his children were captured on CCTV smashing the window of a business in Piopio. Photo / NZ Police 

Security footage from the most recent sighting shows a man, believed to be Phillips with a younger person breaking into the Piopio store in camouflage attire. The store’s alarm was set off in the early hours of the morning. 

A red quad bike was reported stolen from a Marokopa Road property the day before. 

Police said the latest phase of the investigation has been about “appealing to the community - including people that we believe are assisting Tom - and asking them to do the right thing and tell us what you know”. 

“Information reported to police during this latest phase will inform further enquiries and help narrow any potential search area.” 

Responding to questions, police told NZME they “have remained in regular contact with the family throughout the investigation, including discussing whether they wanted to issue an appeal”. 

When asked why other family members had not yet appeared in a public appeal like the mother did, police said they “can’t comment on behalf of other family members,” but continue to be in “regular contact with all parties involved”. 

Those with “credible” and “current” information are asked to contact police, or email [email protected] with any tips. 

Azaria Howell is a Wellington-based multimedia reporter with an eye across the region. She joined NZME in 2022 after multiple years as a student journalist. She has a keen interest in city council decisions, public sector reform, and transport. 

On the Run

The search for fugitive dad Tom Phillips and his three children

  1. September 11, 2021

    Tom Phillips vanishes for the first time with his three young children Jayda, now aged 11, Maverick, now aged 9, and Ember, now aged 7, from a beach near Marokopa.

    1 The discovery of his ute on the shoreline sparks a major land and sea search.

    2 The quartet later return to a family farm almost three weeks later, with Phillips saying he needed timeout.

    Phillips is charged with wasting police resources.

  2. December 9, 2021

    Almost a month before a scheduled court appearance, Phillips again takes his children from Marokopa.

    An arrest warrant is then issued after he fails to appear before court.

  3. May 2022

    The mother of the three missing children makes a public appeal for any information which might lead to their discovery.

    She also says she believes that Phillips is “getting help from someone which has allowed them to stay off the grid for the past six months”.

  4. September 2022

    Police rule out issuing a reward for any information leading to the safe return of the children and the arrest of Phillips. Soon after the children’s maternal family launch a givealittle which contributes to their own $10,000 reward.

  5. May 16, 2023

    3 Phillips allegedly robbed a bank and shot at a supermarket worker in Te Kūiti in May, prompting police to issue a warrant for his arrest on September 5.

    Police charged him with aggravated robbery, aggravated wounding and unlawfully possessing a firearm over the armed heist of ANZ Te Kūiti on Rora St on May 16.

  6. August 2, 2023

    Phillips is seen driving a ute which is reported to be stolen from near Kāwhia.

    4 He is seen in two different Bunnings Warehouse stores, disguising himself with glasses and a surgical facemask. He used cash to buy items, which suggested he may have set up a campsite, including headlamps, batteries, seedlings, buckets and gumboots.

    5 Later that day, Phillips gets into a fight with the owner of the stolen ute in Kāwhia. The owner tries to run Phillips off the road. The owner also realises winter clothing is missing from his property.

  7. September 2023

    Police revealed they had received 14 reports of sightings of Phillips throughout September.

    Detective Inspector Saunders said: “Unfortunately, none of these reported sightings of Tom Phillips or the three children have been positive.”

  8. November 2, 2023

    6 Phillips allegedly stole a quad bike from a rural Waikato property and then broke into a shop with one of his children on November 2.

    Police appealed for any sightings from the public of Phillips, his children or the stolen quad bike.

    7 Security footage from the Piopio shop shows the masked pair smashing the front glass and fleeing north after the alarm was set off about 2am.

  9. June 14, 2024

    8 After three days of intensive activity in Marokopa (1), police focus moved to Ōtorohanga

  10. June 25, 2024

    $80,000 reward offer from police ends on June 25.


Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you