James Fleet was a P addict - but a meth cook and drug dealer who got what was coming to him? No. His mother, Bron Fleet, reveals publicly for the first time who her son James Fleet was - a deep thinker who was kind, caring, quirky, loyal, intelligent and loved.

Bron Fleet sits in her car outside the house where one of her son's killers lives.

From behind her darkened car windows, she can see four men working around the Okoheriki St property in Mamaku.

"Is that them?" she wonders.

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Can they be the men responsible for the grisly deaths of her beloved son, James, 25, and brother Raymond, 51?

It is just weeks since the pair's severely beaten bodies were found dumped in bush near Mamaku on August 17 last year.

Police are busy gathering evidence but yet to make arrests. But in the tight-knit village, it is common knowledge who the likely killers are.

As Bron watches, Richard Te Kani, one of the men who later pleads guilty to the Fleets' manslaughter, emerges from the house and heads her way.

Remarkably calm, she lowers the electric window as he approaches.

"Can I help you?" he asks, leaning into the car.

"Are you Richard Te Kani?" she replies.

A candle burns for James Fleet at his mother Bron Fleet's home. Photo/Stephen Parker
A candle burns for James Fleet at his mother Bron Fleet's home. Photo/Stephen Parker

"Yeah, why?"

"I am James' mother and Ray's sister."

She pauses.

"I just want to see what you look like."

They silently stare at each other for a few seconds.

He mumbles: "Yeah well, you've seen me now."

He walks away.

Looking back now, Bron has no regrets at eyeballing one of the men responsible for tearing her world apart.

But does he and the others found guilty of killing her son by beating him to a pulp and slamming a shovel into his head before leaving him dumped and breathing shallowly at the end of a country road next to his dead uncle, truly know who they have killed?

Who is James Fleet?

James was an adored member of the Fleet family from Mamaku.

He's the son of much-respected midwife Bron Fleet and former partner Andy Newcombe from Cambridge. He's a brother to nine others.

The sadness in Bron's eyes disappears for a moment when she remembers James as a baby.

"He was born at home and breastfed until he was 2 so he was my constant companion. He had a beautiful chubby face and the biggest brightest grey eyes ... When I was feeding him, he would rub under my arm with his hand. He did this his whole life; sometimes I would find his hand stroking my arm."

There were no drugs or violence in their lives - just a normal, stable Kiwi life with a large but strong family.

But James started smoking cannabis and drinking alcohol in his teens.

This later graduated to methamphetamine use, which Bron now knows started after he was surrounded by friends who had family members involved in P.

Bron says that in the beginning, James was a functioning P user. He was holding down a job, a home and relationships.

But it became an addiction that tormented his life as he battled the urge.

At times he'd win. His family would see "James" again - he'd sleep on the couch for days, get up to eat before sleeping some more.

Then, he'd be gone again.

A year before his death he hit rock bottom while living in Auckland. But his skeletal frame came home to Mamaku in December 2016.

He was on the up. He had a good job. He had good relationships.

James was starting to win.

The deaths and the court process

Raymond and James' killings centred around methamphetamine and a gang.

The uncle and nephew were taken from their homes on Monday, August 7. Martin Hone has already admitted murdering the pair, first Raymond by beating him and then running over his head, then James.

Martin Hone, 36, is sentenced for the murders of Raymond Fleet, 51, and James Fleet, 26, in the High Court at Rotorua. Photo/File
Martin Hone, 36, is sentenced for the murders of Raymond Fleet, 51, and James Fleet, 26, in the High Court at Rotorua. Photo/File

Te Kani pleaded guilty to their manslaughter.

Yesterday, a jury found Zen Pulemoana guilty of James' murder and Raymond's manslaughter and Mikaere James Hura not guilty of their murders but guilty of their manslaughters.

Evidence in court was clear that James was only killed because he had witnessed his uncle's murder.

Those who took them were after Raymond because they suspected some methamphetamine was missing from a cook that had taken place at the home of Darius Fleet - Raymond's son - the weekend prior.

James had nothing to do with the manufacture that weekend, and it was still unclear why he was deliberately picked up and then murdered.

Bron has never publicly spoken about her son - until now. She has sat dignified at every court hearing, but the pain of losing her son is written all over her face.

Although she has also lost her brother, she is speaking just about James because she feels this is her last act of motherhood for him.

She doesn't want people to think James was deep into the drug world at the time of his death and somehow deserved what happened to him.

"It seems so unfair that he would be remembered in that way, that that would be how people think of him, if they think of him, and I think it's unfair to his siblings as well.

Bronwyn Fleet at her home in Mamaku. Daily Post photograph by Stephen Parker
Bronwyn Fleet at her home in Mamaku. Daily Post photograph by Stephen Parker

"It's important to the other children that the truth be known, not a sanitised version that James was some perfect angel because he wasn't, just the truth, that's all.

"He was trying really hard. The person James hurt the most was himself. He wasn't a violent person. He wasn't an aggressive person. He tried hard to do the right thing, and I think it was very hard for him to know the degree he was hurting me and his family.

"That was one of the hardest things about his addiction. He felt he was disappointing us and letting us down. That weighed heavily on him because he was a good person."

Fighting the drug P

Bron describes James as a deep thinker, and that is clear from what he wrote on Facebook on New Year's Eve in 2016 - nine months before he was killed. He intended to get straight.

He wrote: "In all honesty, if I treat this year the same as the last 10 years of skulduggery, there's a high chance that I won't make next New Year's. So let's try really hard to stay on track this time because the guilt is way too much."

Bron saw first-hand her son at his lowest point.

A year before he died, he asked her for money.

He told her: "I need to pay these guys this money or they will beat me up."

He needed $300, so Bron went to the Mamaku village and got the money out for him. She parked up, and he got into her car.

''What's going on James?'' she asked.

He replied: ''I have to get out of here mum, I just can't stay here any more."

Bron cries as she remembers the tears rolling down her son's cheeks - the same beautiful cheekbones she adored when he was a baby and the same cheekbones that were fractured just hours before his death as part of a brutal and fatal assault.

"He didn't really talk to me about his drug use, about what made him use it a lot and what didn't. But I could see it in his appearance.

"When he was really deep in it, he would stay away from us and text every now and then. He would keep his distance but then he'd reach a point where he would think 'right I've got to try and sort this out' and he would often come home and literally sleep on the couch for days. I was always happy when he was home."

During one of his lows, he had a psychotic episode, and Bron had him admitted to a psychiatric ward.

"He had been bingeing on meth for days, he was seeing things crawling out of the walls, he was telling us he was the smartest man in the world, and he was going to write a book about it ... when he would finally go to sleep I would take his pulse and it was 180 [normal is about 80]. I was thinking 'what am I going to do? Is he going to have a cardiac arrest and that will be it?'

"I took him up to the mental health unit; I was worried for his safety, never worried for mine ... I had to sign the papers, and they had to section him. He didn't want to go. He said, 'mum don't make me go'."

There were years of seeking help, research, trying to find out how she could save her son. After being released from the hospital, he tried a drug addiction course and family looked up residential treatments for him, but James was never ready to commit.

What he needed was to be sent to a residential facility away from all the triggers and forced to stay there, but such places didn't exist, and if they did, there's limited space, she said.

While he was living in Auckland, every now and then he would message and ask for money.

"I was reluctant to give him money, but I would send him warm clothes, smokes or a bus ticket home.

"I was trying to not withdraw support but change the support I was giving him because I knew I was enabling his drug use. I felt like if I carried on supporting him he would get through it, but what I was actually doing was making it easier for him to carry on doing what he was doing, so there was a point where I thought 'I am actually helping my kid kill himself and I need to stop it'."

James never got mad with his mother.

"He didn't argue with me or try to push me into doing it. But I'd say 'you ring me wherever you are, you've always got somewhere to go'."

James' life was looking up

While Bron knows her son was deep in meth use while living in Auckland and could well have had a more sinister involvement, that was not the case in the months leading up to his death.

"I knew his life really well in the six months before he died, there is just no suggestion even from the police that he was dealing in the production of methamphetamine at that time. He was really settled, he had a job, he came home, watched TV and got up and went to work again the next morning.

"I have got no reason to think he was involved in meth activity beyond using it."

Not knowing exactly why her son was picked up from his home and murdered still haunts her. She had hoped to get answers from the trial, but it still isn't clear.

Bron Fleet said she had no reason to think her son James was involved in meth activity beyond using it. Photo/ Supplied
Bron Fleet said she had no reason to think her son James was involved in meth activity beyond using it. Photo/ Supplied

Bron had heard James had said to someone on the day he was murdered that he left work early because his uncle was in trouble and needed his help.

She says James was not involved in making meth.

"There's just no connection of him to the meth activity prior to their death."

Bron was told by family on the Wednesday they hadn't seen Raymond and James since Monday night.

"I rang 111 as soon as I got off the phone [to family]. I had a gut feeling something was very bad. I knew straight away because he wouldn't have done that. He didn't have his phone, asthma inhalers, a jersey and it was middle of winter.

"My biggest fear was that they wouldn't be found. I just felt with certainty they were dead from very early on. I just accepted he was gone.

"On the Wednesday after I reported him missing, I got home, and everyone else was in bed. The room was dark. I felt James, I felt he was telling me it's okay and I felt he was gone and from that point, I accepted he was gone, but I just wanted him back just so we could look after him."

Bron said it was surreal facing her son's killers in court.

"I look at Martin Hone, and I think 'what happened to you? How do you get to the point where you can smash people's heads in with a spade' ... I think because I am a midwife and I see babies born and they are all born perfect and pure, just like James was, just like every one of those men were - so what have their lives done to them?"

As Bron and her family look ahead to the future, they are taking their grief each day and are trying to focus on the positives - among them celebrating what has become known in their family as J-Day on December 6, the date of James' birthday. Last year it involved food, a water slide and bouncy castles for the kids.

Bron Fleet talks publicly for the first time about her son. Photo / Ben Fraser
Bron Fleet talks publicly for the first time about her son. Photo / Ben Fraser

"We have a good strong family; I have a good marriage, good support from friends, work I enjoy. So many positives."

She said the Mamaku community showed incredible loyalty and strength throughout.

"The four people who were charged were never really part of the Mamaku community. They lived in Mamaku and people were not too happy they were there ... They were united in wanting them gone."

Richard Te Kani's house mysteriously caught fire in Mamaku. Photo / Supplied
Richard Te Kani's house mysteriously caught fire in Mamaku. Photo / Supplied

So much so, after they were arrested, Te Kani's house mysteriously caught fire.

"I got sent a photo of it burning. So my husband and I went down to watch it burn as it was being put out [by firefighters] ... There were quite a few locals just standing around watching."

Meanwhile, Bron said despite it all; she was coping okay.

"It's my other children who keep me going. I not only have to be here, I have to be functioning. If James was my one and only child, I wouldn't want to be here.

"But it's not okay for me to be a complete mess. My other children need me to support them."

As she said during James' eulogy to the packed funeral of all his friends, family and supporters: "When things like this happen, it is easy to think that the world is a terrible place, but it's not."