Kelly Makiha is a senior reporter at the Rotorua Daily Post

Siege: Police's Morehu wins praise

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Taupo police area commander Warwick Morehu at a media conference at Onepu Springs Rd after the gunman was taken into custody earlier today. Photo/NZME
Taupo police area commander Warwick Morehu at a media conference at Onepu Springs Rd after the gunman was taken into custody earlier today. Photo/NZME

The former Rotorua police officer who defused the armed standoff at Onepu may be a reluctant hero, but cousin and prominent lawyer Annette Sykes says he has made everyone proud.

Ms Sykes said Inspector Warwick Morehu was the only person who could have handled the situation with such dignity.

"There he was in jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt. He walks down the road and comes back 10 minutes later having defused the situation and still gets a hug from both sides. Who else could have accomplished that with dignity? It's a mark of true leadership for me.

"He describes himself as a reluctant hero but he is forever the rangatira (chief)."

Ms Sykes, who was born and raised near where the standoff took place near Kawerau, said she was lost for words on Wednesday when news broke about four police officers being shot.

Ms Sykes, a known Maori rights activist, had been critical of the police's actions during the Ruatoki raids in 2007 but said the police operation at Onepu could not be criticised because they made wise decisions.

"When I saw the army tanks I thought we were having another Ruatoki then amid all this emerges Warwick.

"I already have a lot of respect for the man but everyone is hailing him a hero. He's Te Arawa's son and he has made us proud."

Ms Sykes said what happened had never been seen before in a police situation.

"(Yesterday) morning we had this hugely stressful situation and yet we came out with everyone intact. He could have got killed. The man has no fear. He was full of courage. He knew he could get the result. He did it for his brothers in arms. His police officers. It's amazing what he achieved."

Inspector Warwick Morehu speaks with family members of the arrested man yesterday. Photo / Ben Fraser
Inspector Warwick Morehu speaks with family members of the arrested man yesterday. Photo / Ben Fraser

The standoff came to an end at 9am yesterday when Mr Morehu entered the cordon to talk with the alleged gunman.

Mr Morehu then climbed from a car parked back from the cordon, approached family at the intersection, and after speaking to them briefly, hugged and kissed them and returned to the car.

Mr Morehu said he was just doing his job.

"I don't know about hero, to me the heroes are the guys who went to hospital yesterday. I suppose that certainly serves as an inspiration when you have got close colleagues being hurt in the field," he said.

"We come out and we do our job, we do what we can in a time of crisis ... and quite often we are stretched ... but we do what we have to do and we get the job done."

Mr Morehu said the day was about getting back to "grass roots" - dealing with whanau and relying on skills you pick up over many years as an officer.

"You've always got to stay in touch with what's happening on the ground and it was my turn to jump into the fold and do what I could and so I'm happy to do that."

In regards to the outcome, Mr Morehu said he was a "proud Maori" and a "proud Maori officer".

Mr Morehu said it was a priority to have a relationship with the family of the man.

We come out and we do our job, we do what we can in a time of crisis ... and quite often we are stretched ... but we do what we have to do and we get the job done.
Warwick Morehu

"To understand what their needs and their anxieties were regarding the situation and obviously [part of] my negotiations with their son was to be able to convey some of that stuff. Certainly, good communication with the family was key."

He said he had had some dealings with the same family back in 2009 when he was working at Kawerau police station and that it had helped to build rapport with the family.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush also thanked Mr Morehu.

Mr Bush said Mr Morehu kept a close liaison with the man's whanau and was also involved with talking to the man. Mr Morehu's talents extend past his policing career, which spans 28 years. He is also a former top rugby player, appeared in the Once Were Warriors sequel, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, and was the face of the 1999 World Cup Rugby campaign.

Out of uniform, Mr Morehu has played 101 first-class rugby games wearing the Bay of Plenty Steamers or King Country jersey, or with Whakarewarewa in Rotorua.

In 1999, Mr Morehu became the face of the Rugby World Cup campaign.

About 400 billboards featuring Mr Morehu with a computer-enhanced moko were put up throughout Europe. He has also performed as the male leader in local kapa hapa groups. Mr Morehu joined the police in 1988 and was first posted to Rotorua.

During that time he was a constable working in general duties, a community officer, and in the Armed Offender's Squad. In 2013, he became the area prevention manager in Papakura before returning to the Bay of Plenty last year as the youth and community manager.

- additional reporting by New Zealand Herald

- Bay of Plenty Times

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