The funeral director responsible for taking a woman's body across the Auckland border for burial last month was surprised to learn through the media that a high-ranking police officer had allegedly taken some family members through without an exemption.
The Herald revealed earlier this week that Inspector Regan Tamihere, the Māori responsiveness manager for the Counties Manukau police district, was under investigation for allegedly breaching Auckland's southern border without an exemption on September 5.
A police spokeswoman said the travel was not permitted and it was understood Tamihere was accompanying a group across the boundary so they could attend a burial.
Tipene Funerals director Francis Tipene said they regularly transported bodies across Auckland's borders and staff had followed all the rules on this occasion so were surprised to read of the breach.
He said there was a boundary exemption which meant funeral directors could transport a body across the border at any time but family members wanting to accompany the hearse had to apply for a specific exemption.
In this case, Tipene said some family members had been granted an exemption to cross the southern border to the urupā (burial ground) 9km from the boundary in Mangatangi and his staff were not aware any rules had been broken.
He said they explained the lockdown rules to whānau and left it to them to apply for exemptions.
"This was surprising to us when we read it. Those who came through with us had exemptions. What [Tamihere] has done is his problem," he said.
Tamihere was allegedly driving iwi contacts in full uniform when he was stopped at the border.
One source said Tamihere was challenged by police staff manning the southern border, but they reportedly allowed him through after he insisted he could cross the border because he was an essential worker.
However, it is understood the trip was not considered official police business and police have confirmed no exemption was given for travel.
Tipene said it was "heart-wrenching" to see family members denied exemptions to farewell their loved ones but they were always able to uphold tikanga Māori - customs and traditions - and allow families to grieve despite the restrictions.
In tikanga Māori, whānau stay with tūpāpaku (the dead) until they are buried, which includes accompanying them to the burial grounds.
Tipene said under usual circumstances whānau often took their loved ones to their final resting place in a family vehicle.
Boundary restrictions in place under higher Covid alert levels meant in many cases funeral directors would drive the body to the border with whānau following in a procession. Those without exemptions would stop at the boundary while the funeral director crossed over and transferred the casket to whānau waiting on the other side who would complete the remainder of the journey, Tipene said.
"The beautiful thing is, the body always has whānau on both sides of the border," he said.
In the September 5 incident, Tipene Funerals drove the body the whole way to the family marae with whānau in tow, given the short distance from the Auckland boundary.
In instances where family members did not have exemptions and had not been able to say farewell at the funeral home because of gathering size restrictions, the hearse would stop before the border to allow whānau to perform a karakia and say their last goodbyes as long as they stayed in their bubbles.
Tipene said they never had issues with family trying to cross the border without exemptions.
"They know not to come to the border. They just stand a little way away and just wave."
Police are conducting an internal investigation into Tamihere's actions and the Independent Police Conduct Authority is also investigating.
As of 11.59pm September 30, a total of 391,800 vehicles had been stopped at the checkpoints on Auckland's northern and southern boundaries, of which 6237 had been turned around.
On Thursday, 23,721 vehicles were processed at the checkpoints and 198 of those vehicles were turned around.
Auckland has been in alert levels 3 and 4, which carry stiff travel restrictions, since it was announced in August that the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid-19 had escaped into the community.
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