Police contacted with claims of information on missing family after reward issued

By rnz.co.nz and is republished with permission

A police helicopter has been searching the Marokopa area for a man missing and his three children as officers work through the tip-offs they’re received since offering a reward on Tuesday.

Ember, 8, Maverick, 9, and Jayda, 10, have been missing since December 2021, when they were taken by Phillips to an unknown location – though police believe it was in Western Waikato within Marokopa or the surrounding areas.

Police yesterday announced an $80,000 reward for information on missing Marokopa man Tom Phillips and his three children that leads to their location and safe return.

Ember, eight, Maverick, nine, and Jayda, 10, have been missing since December 2021, when they were taken by Phillips to an unknown location – though police believe it was in Western Waikato within Marokopa or the surrounding areas.

Acting Detective Inspector Andrew Saunders gives a briefing on the new arrest warrant for missing Marokopa man Tom Phillips, 6 September 2023.

Acting Detective Inspector Andy Saunders. Photo: RNZ / Jordan Dunn

In a statement, police said the Eagle helicopter was out in the Marokopa area last night “in support of the operation”.

“Results of their work in the area are being assessed alongside other information.”

Marokopa residents should expect to see an increased police presences in the area over the next few days, they said.

Acting Detective Inspector Andy Saunders told Morning Report this appeal was aimed at the people they believed had been helping Phillips to hide.

“This is targeted at those people with direct information as to the whereabouts of the children.”

Police were also offering the possibility of immunity from prosecution to anyone with information.

“The important aspect of this is the safe return of the children, that’s our main focus,” Saunders said.

He said police had received emails, calls, and had community members engage with them since yesterday’s announcement.

Officers were now sifting through all the information and prioritising it “to see what value it is”.

It was too soon to say whether any of the information was credible, Saunders said.

He said police believed the family were in a dwelling, rather than living rough, but hadn’t been able to find them over the past 2.5 years despite several sightings and a number of locations of interest being identified.

Ōtorohanga Mayor Max Baxter says communities have to lead change, through partnerships with central Government

Ōtorohanga’s Mayor Max Baxter. Photo: SUPPLIED/ KCN

Ōtorohanga’s Mayor Max Baxter told Morning Report he was hopeful this would be enough for someone helping the family to come forward.

“$80,000 is a lot of money for anybody who’s living out at Marokopa, in fact $80,000 is a lot of money for anybody. I’m hoping the reward is enough to change the attitude of those people that may be withholding information.”

The general consensus in the community was that some body must be assisting Phillips, Baxter said.

“Marakopa itself doesn’t need to be identified for this reason alone, so lets just hope people put their hand up and come forward now,” he said.

* Police said people with information could contact the dedicated email address op.curly@police.govt.nz or call on 105 or online at https://www.police.govt.nz/use-105 clicking ‘Update Report’ and referencing file number 211218/5611.

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