New Zealand

Missing Marokopa man linked to bank robbery

Missing Marokopa man Tom 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 today.

Police have charged Phillips, missing since December 2021, with aggravated robbery, aggravated wounding and unlawfully possessing a firearm over the armed heist of ANZ bank in the King Country town.

Acting Detective Inspector Andrew Saunders said today that people shouldn’t “take action” if they see Phillips as he “still potentially has firearms in his possession.”

Police have been investigating the robbery and “recent developments in our ongoing inquiries have led police to charge Mr Phillips”.

Two people entered a bank in Rora St and demanded cash, before fleeing the scene on a black farm-style motorcycle,” Saunders said.

The aggravated robbery, which saw a nearby supermarket worker shot at, happened on May 16.

The other person had not yet been identified.

A local radio station, MFM Te Reo o Te Iwi, reported a gunshot had been heard near the bank during the robbery, and said it also understood a man was shot at.

Witnesses told The New Zealand Herald that two men wearing all black and motorcycle helmets entered the bank and were asked by ANZ staff to remove their helmets, which is when the robbery began.

A witness said the pair, one short and the other tall, fled the bank “with $50 notes flying everywhere”.

Armed police and detectives then arrived, the witness said.

A dog unit also patrolled the area and guards were posted outside the bank.

Sightings in August 

Phillips and his three children Jayda, 10, Maverick, 8, and Ember, 7 were reported missing from Marokopa by family on January 18 in 2022.

Saunders said police remained concerned about the welfare of the children.

After sightings last month, which led to officers finding a ute Phillips allegedly stole, police “have been scanning all reports of possible sightings”, Inspector Will Loughrin said.

The search for the 36-year-old and his children was reinvigorated after the sightings – the first in 17 months.

Saunders today again asked for information from the public about Phillips’ whereabouts, saying people should report sightings to 111 and quote file number 230516/7295.

Waikato police boosted the number of officers on the ground searching for Phillips last month and asked locals and hunters for help.

Loughrin said police wanted the Waikato community to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity.

He urged locals to report thefts of fuel, food and other supplies, and hunters to report “any signs of people being present in unusual or remote areas”.

Given 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.

But Phillips will keep hiding with his three children “as long as he can”, his cousin said earlier.

Trevor Neal, told Newshub: “As long as the kids are fine – I’d say they are, otherwise somebody would have heard something by now. He could [still] be [in the area]. I don’t know.”

Police have released security footage from Phillips’ shopping excursion to Bunnings Warehouse on Wednesday, August 2, where he wore a beanie, glasses and a surgical mask.

His trip to the hardware store was one of four sightings: the first at 12.30pm in Pokuru, south of Te Awamutu, the second between 3pm and 4pm at Bunnings in Kahikatea Dr and the third at 4pm at another Bunnings in Te Rapa, Hamilton.

The fourth sighting of Phillips was in Kāwhia at 6.45pm, 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.

Loughrin said police received a report and responded immediately to the Kāwhia area but were unable to find the ute – even with the help of the police helicopter.

The owner discovered winter clothes and other items missing from their property that would be useful for a stay in the bush, Newshub reported.

Earlier disappearance 

It is not the first time Phillips has taken the children and disappeared.

Police earlier said Phillips’ second disappearance breached a parenting order and there was a warrant out for his arrest after he failed to appear in court in relation to their first disappearance in September 2021.

His first disappearance with the children sparked an extensive search.

– additional reporting RNZ 

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