Tragedy as wife and best mate drown

New Zealand's longest-serving police officer saw his wife and best mate drown the day before his daughter's wedding in Rarotonga.

Yesterday, instead of walking daughter Vanessa up the aisle, Chief Inspector John Palmer was consoling her as they grieved for Judith Lorraine Palmer, known as Judy.

Mrs Palmer, 62, had been swimming in a lagoon at Vaimaanga when she got into trouble on Wednesday. Robert Groves, a close family friend and neighbour, tried to help but both drowned.

Mr Palmer was at the lagoon and is said to be devastated. He and Mrs Palmer had been married for 42 years and the couple had been planning the trip to the Cook Islands, where Vanessa and her partner Rhys Woodger live, for months.

He was too upset to speak to the New Zealand Herald last night, but issued a statement through a family spokesman.

"He doesn't want to answer any questions about this tragedy," Bob Palmer said. "He just wants to basically acknowledge the support extended over here. John, Vanessa and his family are devastated by the tragic events which resulted in the loss of a loving wife, mother and sister.

"John and his family have been overwhelmed by the support and love extended them by the greater New Zealand police family. Our sincere thanks also go to the New Zealand High Commissioner and his team at Rarotonga for their support.

"The support from the Rarotongan community and John and Vanessa's friends and family has been outstanding and is a great comfort to us all as we deal with this tragedy."

The wedding was postponed. It is expected the bodies will be brought back to Auckland for funeral services.

It is understood Mr Groves' wife, Mary, is also in Rarotonga.

Locals recovered the bodies from the lagoon, near where the group were staying for the wedding, about an hour after the pair drowned.

Mr Palmer has been a police officer for almost 47 years, mostly in Auckland. He is the only remaining chief inspector in New Zealand.

Auckland City district commander Superintendent Mike Clement said the double tragedy had hit Mr Palmer and his wider family "hard".

"We are all reeling from the news and can only imagine the magnitude of the devastation John, his family and the Groves family are feeling," Mr Clement said.

"I know personally that the trip to Rarotonga for Vanessa's wedding was to be the highlight of the year for John and Judy and that much planning and anticipation surrounded it.

"I and Commissioner Peter Marshall have spoken with John on several occasions in the past 24 hours and have offered our absolute support and assistance to help him, his daughter and their friends through this very distressing time."

- Anna Leask of the New Zealand Herald

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