Neighbourhood watch co-ordinator Lance Scullin was always willing to step in if there was trouble in his street.

Members of his grieving family fear this willingness to confront troublemakers may have cost him his life.

On Saturday night he went out to help when there was a disturbance in his street. Hours later he was dead.

The 50-year-old father-of-three's body was found by neighbours in the backyard of his Merivale property at 10am on Sunday. Twelve hours earlier he had been assaulted with a fence paling by a group of youths fighting outside his home after he tried to break up an altercation.


Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Turner told the Bay of Plenty Times police were called but Mr Scullin did not want to lay a formal complaint.

"Police patrolled the area and spoke to several witnesses in the vicinity and in neighbouring streets where there were a number of parties," Mr Turner said.

"Unfortunately we are still trying to piece together exactly what happened between 10pm that night and 10am the following morning when Mr Scullin was found by his neighbours."

Police said the assault and Mr Scullin's death might not be connected but urged the community to help identify the group of eight or more youths involved in the attack.

They are also seeking a chunk of the brown wooden fence paling, yanked from a neighbouring property before the assault, saying it might be the piece of the puzzle they need to decipher what happened that night.

Mr Scullin's former partner yesterday was receiving counselling at the Merivale Community Centre, just metres from where he lost his life.

Outside, devastated friends and extended family spoke of a caring and compassionate man with a big heart, who was focused on creating a safer environment in his neighbourhood. One free from the grip of gangs and violent crime.

Sister-in-law Kamira Walker yesterday described Mr Scullin as a man who would have done "anything for anyone, any time of the day or night".

She said his willingness to help may have cost him his life.

"If you needed him, he was there," she said. "He was the go-to guy for the whole neighbourhood.

"His house was a safe house no matter who you were, he always had a spare bed and you knew you were welcome. He had such a big heart and he was loved by so many people."

Ms Walker said her brother-in-law was extremely security conscious and wanted his children to be safe and happy.

"In fact, he wanted that for everyone in his community," she said.

"Which is probably why he left his house to see if anyone was in trouble, to see if anyone needed his support, even if it got him in trouble." Merivale Community Centre services manager John Fletcher said Mr Scullin's death was a massive shock for the community. He said many people were angry.

"Mr Scullin kept an eye on what was going on in the community and often challenged people who were causing trouble," Mr Fletcher said.

"He was like our unofficial security guard."

Mr Fletcher said the centre encouraged people to make a positive difference in their street and Mr Scullin did.

"Not a lot of people in the community will challenge bad behaviour," he said.

"The sad thing is that there are few people who are prepared to stand up and say, 'I want things to be better' and when this happens to one of them it's just a disaster."

One of Mr Scullin's friends, Lana Taupo, called him a "great man and a great dad".

"He was strict with the kids if they stepped outside the boundaries but at the same time if he could think of a way to make the day fun, he would.

"He loved this neighbourhood and he wanted it to be safe for his babies, for everyone's babies," she said.

"He was well respected here and will be sorely missed."

Mr Scullin's death is not yet being treated as a homicide. A post-mortem examination in Auckland yesterday was inconclusive.

Police said they are unsure if Mr Scullin's body was taken to his property or if he managed to get home himself, perhaps after a second assault, and are unwilling to talk in detail about the group of youths.

Mr Turner told the Bay of Plenty Times "ongoing forensic testing" might determine the cause of Mr Scullin's death.

He said Mr Scullin had always supported his community and now he hoped that community would support the police in their investigation to find out how he died.

Mr Turner said police had found part of the brown wooden fence paling that had been used to assault Mr Scullin but there was a portion missing.

"We are asking people in the area to check their back yards and see if they can find it," he said. "We would also like help to identify the group of youths that were involved in the incident outside Mr Scullin's home.

"We are unsure if the incident is connected to Mr Scullin's death but we need all the information we can get going forward."

There will be a community meeting at the Merivale Community Centre tomorrow at 1pm, when the police will update the community on the investigation.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Tauranga Police on 07 577 4300.

Information can also be provided anonymously to the Crimestopper's line on 0800 555 111.