Warwick Morehu: Meet the police officer who ended the siege

By Regan Schoultz, Katee Shanks

He has been hailed a hero by many but the police officer who brought an end to the 22-hour siege says the real heroes are the four officers who were shot while performing their duties.

The public and the family of alleged gunman, Rhys Warren, 27, have praised Taupo police area commander Inspector, Warwick Morehu, who was personally requested by Warren to arrest him at the Onepu Spring Rd property this morning.

Having worked in the police for 28 years, Mr Morehu is also a former top rugby player, appeared in the Once Were Warriors sequel and was the face of the 1999 World Cup Rugby campaign.

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Warren allegedly shot and injured four police officers yesterday during a drug operation in the small Bay of Plenty town of Onepu, after which he holed himself up in a family property.

The stand-off came to an end at 9am this morning when Mr Morehu entered the cordon to talk with Warren.

Warwick Morehu in an advertising campaign for the All Blacks and the 1999 Rugby World Cup
Warwick Morehu in an advertising campaign for the All Blacks and the 1999 Rugby World Cup

Family were then seen hugging police at the cordon shortly after, signalling a successful negotiation.

Mr Morehu, who is also a Maori liaison officer, 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.

Warren's family hailed Mr Morehu as a hero who diffused the potentially deadly standoff but he told reporters at the scene 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's talents extend past his policing career.

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

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 and a television advertisement showing him performing the haka with the All Blacks screened in 42 countries.

He has also performed as the male leader in local kapa hapa groups and appeared in the film What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted (the sequel to Once Were Warriors) in 1999.

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, a detective in CIB and in the Armed Offender's Squad. He was promoted to frontline sergeant in 1997 and further promoted in 2002 to senior sergeant and officer in charge of Opotiki Police Station.

In 2009, he moved to Kawerau as a senior sergeant and was promoted to inspector in 2011 working in the youth and communities section in Counties Manukau.

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.

The alleged gunman's cousin, Rachel Pereniki, said the siege could have ended very differently had it not been for the presence of Mr Morehu.

Mr Morehu was personally requested by the alleged gunman's family who asked that he be the man to arrest their son.

He was at the scene overnight but was travelling back to Rotorua when he was summoned back to the property because Warren wanted him to be the police officer that arrested him. Ms Pereniki said she knew her cousin trusted the former the Opotiki officer and Kawerau senior sergeant, as did the rest of the family.

"We got the opportunity to speak to Warwick. He initially said he would not be able to make it but we could trust the officer he was sending over.

"Then we were told by police at the scene Warwick was on one of the Army tankers that went through the cordon this morning. I called him in the hope it was true but he told me it wasn't.

"It was about then I told him he needed to come to Onepu as the family were pretty close to losing it. He didn't have to but he turned his car around and came to us."

Ms Pereniki said as soon at Mr Morehu was in their sight, the family settled down.

"We know him, we trust him and we knew he would do the best he could for us."

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

"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.

- NZ Herald

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