Mum desperate to see missing Marokopa kids

Tom Phillips and his three children Jayda, Maverick and Ember. Photo: supplied/NZ Police
Tom Phillips and his three children Jayda, Maverick and Ember. Photo: supplied/NZ Police
By Natalie Akoorie of RNZ

The mother of three children not seen in more than two-and-a-half years has told police she is pleased a reward has been offered in the case.

On Tuesday, police announced an $80,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Jayda, 10, Maverick, 9, and Ember, 8, who are missing with their fugitive father Tom Phillips.

Waikato Police field crime manager, Acting Detective Inspector Andrew Saunders, told RNZ he updated their mum on Thursday.

She was desperate to see her children and like many others, wanted to see their safe return, he said.

Her eldest Jayda - turns 11 next week.

The children have not been seen since December 2021, when Phillips took them to an unknown location, thought to be in the King Country or Waitomo District.

Since announcing the reward, police stationed officers on the ground in the tiny coastal community of Marokopa for 24 hours a day, for the first three days.

Now they have scaled back their operation to a small team of investigators and an assurance patrol but say the presence, including checkpoints at four locations around the isolated settlement, has fielded good leads.

Saunders said the mum was pleased with the announcement of the reward, which included possible immunity from prosecution for anyone who gave information leading to the return of the children, who may have committed an offence in assisting Phillips in the past.

Like many others in the community, she wanted to see her children returned safely.

Saunders said although police scaled back their presence in Marokopa on Friday - where they had been since Tuesday - a smaller team would remain there until the reward offer expired on 25 June.

"After three days of this phase of the operation we've had over 70 new reports of information on the subject of the missing people, via phonecall, email and personal approaches offering information.

"We're continuing to assess the information and conduct follow-up enquiries.

"As a result of our enquiries we have identified a number of credible reports that are being investigated further."

Saunders said he could not provide details while the investigation was ongoing, but that police were committed to getting a result as soon as possible.

He told RNZ while Marokopa continued to be a focus for the investigation, enquiries were also being caried-out in surrounding areas including Honikiwi Rd, near Ōtorohanga.

"We're appealing for anyone who has observed suspicious behaviour in these areas in recent months to please contact police.

"Our message hasn't changed: We continue to urge anyone with credible, current information that will lead to location and safe return of Ember, Maverick and Jayda to the right thing and tell Police what you know."