Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Missing boatie Kerry Blair: Police accused of making 'false' claims

Kerry Blair took his boat from a remote bay in the Marlborough Sounds and has not been seen since. Photo / Supplied
Kerry Blair took his boat from a remote bay in the Marlborough Sounds and has not been seen since. Photo / Supplied

Police officers have been accused of falsifying theft claims against a missing boatie as a "means to an end" to get a telecommunications company to release his cellphone records, an inquest has heard.

Experienced seaman Kerry Blair, 55, took his boat from a remote bay in the Marlborough Sounds, which cannot be named for legal reasons, to get fish and chips on March 8, 2014, and has not been seen since.

An inquest which began last December, and resumed today, is looking at four possible scenarios to explain his disappearance, including suicide, accident, foul play, or staged vanishing.

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Whatever happened to Kerry Blair?

The day after Blair was reported missing by a colleague, Marlborough police approached Telecom, since rebranded as Spark, asking for his cellphone text data.

But the telecommunications company said police would need to provide a production order before they would release it.

The next day, March 11, 2014, police produced a production order which included an allegation that Blair had stolen the boat he was assumed to have disappeared on.

The Blair family has told the inquest that the allegations were without foundation.

They allege that the police made up the claims in order to get the phone records quickly.
"There's no evidence, there's no investigation into a stolen boat, there's no complaints, there's no nothing," son Dylan Blair told the hearing.

Detective senior sergeant Ciaran Sloan accepted that during the missing persons inquiry there had been no information on police files that Blair had stolen the boat.

"It was a means to an end to try and find Mr Blair," Sloan admitted under cross-examination by counsel assisting the Blair family, Allister Davis.

Sloan said that Blair had authority to use the boat within the Marlborough Sounds, but he'd gone outside the area. Police needed Telecom's help to find him, he said.

"[Telecom] refused to do so on the missing person basis so the document was prepared knowing that the boat had been taken outside the authority that he had," Sloan added.

(L-R) Kerry Blair with his three children, Rochelle, Dylan and Cherise. Photo / Supplied
(L-R) Kerry Blair with his three children, Rochelle, Dylan and Cherise. Photo / Supplied

The boat owner, who cannot be named for legal reasons, earlier told the inquest that Blair did not have permission to use the boat outside of the Sounds.

The family was so upset by the alleged false claims that it is understood to have lodged a complaint with the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) in relation to the alleged false claims on the production order.

The 9m craft was found drifting 200km off Taranaki nine days after he was reported missing, but Blair was not on board and his body has never been found.

Blair's three children, Dylan Blair, Rochelle Foster and Cherise Blair have raised concerns over the initial police response to the missing persons case.

Frustrated in the belief that police were spending more time investigating Blair's background and character than the seas and inlets, the family funded their own aerial search.

Rochelle told the inquest that she felt the police attitude at first was, "He's done a runner", and then when the boat was found, "Dad's committed suicide, let's work back from that and prove he has".

Police deny many of the family's claims.

Officers say they approached the "enormous" missing persons operation with a practical clarity that emotional and distraught family members could not.

Police say there were no indications of foul play for them to investigate at the time, though they "kept an open mind".

During the inquest, family members speculated that three people, whose identity cannot be reported due to legal reasons, could have been involved in Blair's disappearance.

The inquest, before Coroner Marcus Elliott, continues tomorrow.

- NZ Herald

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