Police investigating the death of a Te Atatu man who allegedly broke into a van and later died from his injuries will first have to determine the cause of death before deciding the next step in the case, a law expert says.

Two men were breaking into a vehicle in Te Atatu in the early hours of Sunday morning when the van's owner is believed to have confronted them.

One of the thieves fled in a vehicle leaving his accomplice in an altercation with the vehicle owner.

Neighbours earlier told the Herald they heard the suspect screaming in pain before he went unconscious.

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Police initially confirmed the man was taken to Auckland City Hospital with serious head injuries, but later said they were not sure why the man lost consciousness. The man died in hospital on Tuesday and his death has been referred to the coroner.

The vehicle owner was taken to Waitakere Hospital with moderate injuries but was later discharged.

University of Auckland law expert Bill Hodge said Police will first need to determine the cause of the man's death and if it was medical before deciding their next steps.

"Once you get past the first step which is cause of death then you say was he simply defending the chattel or had it shifted to self defence of himself as opposed to simply the vehicle."

Under one section of the Crimes Act, defence of movable property, a person could use reasonable force to protect their property but they could not cause bodily harm.

Whereas under a different section of the same law, a person is entitled to use reasonable force to protect themselves.

Wellington-based criminal lawyer John Miller said what could be classed as reasonable depended on the danger the person felt they were in at the time.

Police were unable to comment last night on whether any charges may be laid, but in an earlier statement said inquiries were ongoing.

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Police are still trying to find the second man who left the address and are urging anyone with information about the incident to contact Waitemata Crime Squad on 09 839 0697 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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Neighbours heard screams after Te Atatu man confronted van thieves
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