Body found on beach cremated after lying unclaimed for two years

Ninety Mile Beach. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ninety Mile Beach. Photo / Dean Purcell

The body of a man found at 90 Mile Beach had to be cremated because it posed a health and safety risk after being left unclaimed in a morgue for two years, according to a coroner's finding.

When the body of Sunil Kumar Raghava Raju, 25, was discovered on February 13, 2011 there was initially no indication who he was, Coroner Brandt Shortland said.

Mr Raju's body was washed up in a state so decomposed, his ethnicity could not be identified.

"His skin pigmentation had deteriorated and there was just nothing that the police could find to identify him or work with.

"The cause of death was undetermined at that time, though [there was] a strong belief he at least drowned."

Fingerprints taken from his body proved inconclusive when compared to the police database, Coroner Shortland said.

"Mr Raju had never been in trouble with the law in New Zealand, hence no match."

On February 26 that year, police received a report of a missing 25-year-old Indian male.

Flatmates of Mr Raju, who was a student in Auckland at the time, had reported him missing when he failed to stay in contact with them.

Mr Raju had finished a course and told his flatmates that he was heading to Hamilton to look for work. However, there was no evidence as to whether he actually made it to Hamilton, Coroner Shortland said.

How he arrived at Ahipara still remains a mystery, Coroner Shortland said.

Police effectively left no stone unturned, but were unable to answer the basic questions on how Mr Raju was even in that area and the reasons why he was there, Coroner Shortland said.

"Natural conclusions formed a view that he had not been there previously.

"The fact he was washed up on 90 Mile Beach raised lots of questions with very few answers."

Police conducted a thorough inquiry including searching missing persons' files, fingerprint checks, inquiries with forensic dentists, shipping company records, inquiries into overboard fishermen, Interpol inquiries and searching carparks and camping grounds in the Far North - to no avail.

The initial investigation was carried out by a police officer based in the northernmost police station in the country, who "used all his resources and plugged all his contacts for any information and effectively came up blank", Coroner Shortland said.

A subsequent post-mortem examination unearthed no evidence of pre-mortem injuries however, extensive post-mortem injuries were present which were likely to be the result of shark bites, Dr Jane Vuletic said.

"Due to the degree of decomposition present, a cause of death was not identified."

Coroner Shortland said Mr Raju had been in the water for so long it defeated any possibility of accurately determining the cause of death.

However there were no injuries which suggested violence either before or during death.

Police also found no activity on Mr Raju's Facebook page or with his bank balances.

On the balance of probabilities it was most likely Mr Raju drowned, Coroner Shortland said.

"He had not been in trouble with the law. There was no indication he was in conflict with other persons.

"There is no evidence to suggest he was mentally unwell or unstable. As to why he was there and how he got there remains inconclusive."

Mr Raju's body remained in the mortuary fridge in Auckland awaiting pick up for two years following his post-mortem examination, Coroner Shortland said.

However, "it came to a point where his body was a health and safety issue and, therefore, the process was then hastened for the purpose of disposal".

His cremation was funded through ACC. His ashes remain in an urn until either his family claim them or directions are given as to their disposal.

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