Stabbing victim's family visit murder scene

By Beck Vass, Edward Gay, Andrew Koubaridis, Alanah May Eriksen

Grieving family members of slain businessman Austin Bernard Hemmings today visited the scene of his murder in central Auckland and helped load his body into a hearse.

They had been kept from the body for 20 hours after the 44-year-old Devonport resident and IAG broker manager was fatally stabbed while going to the aid of a woman who had allegedly been punched in the face.

After being given access to the police tent which covered Mr Hemmings' body, his family covered their eyes to hide their grief, hugged each other and cried.

After a few minutes they helped pick up the grey body bag inside the tent, put it on a stretcher and then wheeled it to a hearse.

The family learnt of the tragedy when paramedics called them using the ICE (in case of emergency) system programmed into Mr Hemmings' cellphone and arrived at the scene in less than an hour.

At a media conference this morning, Detective Senior Sergeant Gerry Whitley paid tribute to those who helped.

"There were a lot of heroes here that showed that community-minded spirit," he said.

Mr Whitley also described Mr Hemmings' actions as "heroic".

"Mr Hemmings was asked by a person - who knew the man charged - for assistance. Like most able bodied, community minded, spirited men, Mr Hemmings went to her assistance," he said.

Mr Whitley said the father of three had no idea the situation would turn violent.

Mr Hemmings moved from Hamilton to Auckland six months ago with his wife and children.

Mr Whitley said the Hemmings were an "amazing beautiful family" who were experiencing "total devastation".

"I'm struggling to really describe the total grief they're going through," he said.

Mr Whitley told reporters paramedics had informed the family of Mr Hemmings' injuries to gain information about his medical history.

Family members then rushed to the scene but arrived after Mr Hemmings had passed away.

Mr Whitley said "there was nothing they could do to save him".

'Caring family man'

The head of NZI - a division of IAG - said the company's thoughts were with the Hemmings.

Karl Armstrong told Newstalk ZB: "[Austin Hemmings] was a kind, caring and genuine person with extremely strong personal values, first and foremost a family man.

"So to a degree it comes as no surprise to us that he went to the aid of someone in distress, that's the kind of person he was."

Prime Minister Helen Clark told the Herald the attack on Mr Hemmings was "atrocious".

"For an innocent person who went to a woman's aid to be fatally stabbed like this is absolutely atrocious," she said,

"It is very shocking, and quite unusual in that area. I certainly wouldn't want to see people afraid of coming into the city because of it."

Man charged

Armed police stormed a house in Otahuhu about 4.30am and arrested a man in connection with the stabbing.

The 45 year-old sickness beneficiary appeared in the Auckland District Court today charged with male assaults female.

In his brief appearance, the accused man stood in the dock in a white police boiler suit with his head bowed and hands clasped in front.

Judge Paul suppressed the defendant's name as well as those of two key witnesses and remanded the man in custody until October 17, when he will reappear. He declined media applications to film and photograph the accused.

Crown prosecutor Kevin Glubb supported the suppression application, saying the investigation was still in its early stages.

Mr Glubb also applied for the victim's name to be suppressed before being told that the police had named Mr Hemmings before court opened.

Mr Whitley said the accused man would be facing more serious charges when he next appeared in court.

Police investigation

Earlier this morning, the detective said it was hoped a post-mortem examination would get under way this afternoon or tomorrow.

He said police were not seeking anyone else over the homicide.

"We will be laying serious charges in relation to the homicide sometime in the very near future," Mr Whitley said.

He said Mr Hemmings and the woman he went to help were unknown to each other.

"They didn't know each other. There are hundreds of people that work in that office building, 26 floors," Mr Whitley said.

He said the woman was "grieving for someone she didn't know".

Police were yet to recover a weapon and were speaking to a lot of witnesses who had been heading home after work when the drama unfolded.

Mr Whitley said a cordon around the Mills Lane scene would remain in place today, as long as investigators required it.

When asked about what led to the stabbing, Mr Whitley declined to comment and said the matter was now before the courts.

Witness reports

A witness last night said a Pacific Island woman was punched by a man in the carpark of what is believed to be a call centre where she works on Mills Lane, metres from Queen St, about 5.30pm.

A man coming out of the lift came to help her.

The offender stabbed the man in the chest and ran off.

Mr Hemmings is thought to have staggered about 50m and into the private entrance of the BNZ Tower looking for help.

But a woman who works in the building told the Herald the bottom floor of the tower had several vacant offices, so no one would have heard his cries.

The woman said she saw a large pool of blood near the toilets when she left to go home.

Mr Hemmings is then thought to have walked out of the tower and called to construction men working on the Stamford Plaza Hotel before collapsing in Swanson St just up from the Queen St Burger King.

He died a few minutes later.

Sara, a woman who works nearby, said she reached Mr Hemmings with a first-aid kit before emergency services arrived.

She handed another woman giving him CPR rubber gloves and advised her to keep doing compressions as she felt his neck for a pulse.

"I couldn't find one ... His eyes were staring up straight at the sky and he was still."

She said Mr Hemmings was lying flat on his back, covered in blood.

"The blood was rolling down Mills Lane. He was completely still and people were trying to do CPR.

"He was wearing black trousers and a blue shirt and looked like a young businessman."

Mr Hemmings was bleeding heavily from a chest wound and had blood on his mouth, throat and nose, Sara said. Rescuers were also covered in his blood.

"I spoke to a construction worker who said the man walked up to him and said, 'I need help'."

When an ambulance arrived paramedics removed the man's shirt and tried to revive him.

About two hours after the stabbing, a crying male family member arrived at the scene yelling "where is he? I want to see him."

He ran under the cordon on the corner of Swanson St and Albert St and about four policeman ran towards him to stop him from getting to the body.

Several minutes later a woman and three teenagers - two females and one male - arrived and were let into the cordon.

They stood in a circle hugging the man who had arrived earlier.

They were all put into a police car soon after.

Police cordon

The area around the stabbing scene was cordoned off, and police officers stopped motorists in Mills Lane from leaving in their cars and driving through the crime scene.

Once police had cleared the area, they established a square of four cordons and a fifth one around an elevator in the carpark of the call centre where it is thought the man was stabbed.

An ambulance was parked in front of the body to block it from sight.

About six police cars stayed inside the cordon.

Access to the street was expected to remain blocked off overnight.

Police spoke to several witnesses and asked nearby businesses for security camera film which they believed might help them identify Mr Hemmings' attacker.

Police are appealing for any witnesses to the stabbing, who have not already spoken to police, to contact them immediately.

- NZ Herald

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