Police offer $80k reward in case of missing Marokopa dad Tom Phillips and his children

By rnz.co.nz and is republished with permission

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

(clockwise from top left) Tom Phillips, Jayda Phillips, Ember Phillips and Maverick Callam-Phillips Photo: Supplied / NZ Police

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.

Police have concerns for the welfare of the children, who have been living in isolation for the past two-and-a-half years, with no connection to others and without formal education and health care, Acting Detective Inspector Andrew Saunders said.

“Phillips does not have legal custody of the children. He is sought by police and there is a warrant for his arrest.”

Saunders said police believe Phillips and the children were being helped.

“We’re urging anyone who’s doing this to please stop, do the right thing and tell police what you know.”

The commissioner of police will determine the amount of the reward, and will share it out if there is more than one claimant.

Immunity against prosecution will be considered for anyone who has committed an offence in assisting Tom Phillips, if they provide information or evidence which leads to the location and safe return of the children, he said.

The reward was aimed at people who have knowledge of where Phillips and the children might be, giving them a small window of two weeks to contact police if they want the reward.

“Over the last two and a half years we’ve issued a number of appeals for information… we haven’t achieved the result we were hoping for,” Saunders told media gathered at the Hamilton Police Station on Tuesday afternoon.

The offer will remain in force until 25 June 2024. Phillips himself was not eligible, Saunders said. The family was notified in advance and supported the offer.

Extra staff have been deployed to the Marokopa area, Saunders said, to act on the “significant amount of information” they expected to receive.

Police said Phillips may be armed and should not be approached. His arrest was of secondary importance to retrieving the children, Saunders said.

Charges faced by Tom Phillips

In November, police appealed for sightings of Phillips riding a red farm-style quad bike.

Police said security footage showed Phillips and one of his children breaking the glass frontage of a store in Piopio.

In May, Phillips was allegedly one of two people involved in the armed robbery of an ANZ bank in Te Kūiti and he was charged with aggravated wounding and unlawfully possessing a firearm.

Phillips and his children had previously disappeared in September 2021.

A large search and rescue operation was suspended after 17 days when he and the children walked into his family’s farmhouse.

They had been living in a tent in dense bush, inland from Kiritehere beach, police said.

Phillips was charged with wasting police resources. But after failing to appear at Te Kūiti District Court for a scheduled hearing in mid-January 2022, a warrant for his arrest was issued.

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