Whanau insist James Takamore's body stays put

By James Ihaka, Jarrod Booker

Denise Clarke, with daughter Jenna, is delighted with the judge's decision over the body of her husband, James Takamore, but uncertain about her next move. Photo / Simon Baker
Denise Clarke, with daughter Jenna, is delighted with the judge's decision over the body of her husband, James Takamore, but uncertain about her next move. Photo / Simon Baker

Relatives who took the body of a man from his partner and children, claiming Maori custom, say they did nothing wrong and have no intention of returning it despite a court ruling against them.

The Tuhoe relatives are standing firm after the High Court ruled that they had no legal authority to take the body of James Takamore from his family in Christchurch in 2007 and bury him at Kutarere in the Bay of Plenty.

But although the court has determined that Mr Takamore's long-time Pakeha partner, Denise Clarke, has rights to bury his body where she sees fit, Justice John Fogarty did not order that the body be exhumed.

Instead, he invited Tuhoe to disinter it or to get together with the widow to try to reach a resolution.

Ms Clarke was ecstatic at the ruling after two years of what she described as bullying and manipulation, but uncertain about what would happen next.

"I really don't know what the [Takamore] family are going to do. I know they want discussions, but we really don't know whether they will appeal or not."

A Takamore family member who asked not to be named said the whanau had no regrets about their actions.

But she said they were willing to talk to Ms Clarke. "That's if she comes to talk with us."

The lawyer for the whanau, Moana Tuwhare, said they were disappointed by Justice Fogarty's ruling but had no plans to give back the body.

"As far as my clients are concerned they hold firm to the position that they have acted in accordance with their tikanga [customs] ... but they are willing to continue out-of-court dialogue with Ms Clarke," she said.

"[Both parties] are quite determined to stand their ground, which makes any resolution difficult."

Mr Takamore died in August 2007 and before he could be buried in Christchurch, where he had lived for almost 20 years with Ms Clarke and his two children, visiting whanau took him north.

He was buried at Kutarere alongside other relatives before police could serve an injunction.

Ms Clarke took a civil case to the High Court, which was heard this month.

In his ruling, Justice Fogarty said the family and Tuhoe had no legal right to take Mr Takamore's body and "so it is not properly buried".

If a resolution could not be reached, the judge said, he could make an order for the body to be disinterred.

"In this case, it is beyond doubt that the late Jim Takamore chose to live outside tribal life and the customs of the tribe," Justice Fogarty said.

"Under the common law he was entitled to expect the choices he made during his life to be respected by the executor of his will when it came to the decision as to his funeral. This is even more so because he chose as his executor of his will his life-long partner."

Ms Clarke said she still felt angry that the Takamore family did not consider her wishes, and those of her partner, who wanted to be buried in Christchurch.

She was prepared to go back to court to continue the fight if she had to.

Maori academic Rawiri Taonui said those who took Mr Takamore's body ought to apologise for the cultural bullying of Ms Clarke and her family.

- NZ Herald

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