The battle for the body of James Takamore may be heading back to court after a planned exhumation in the Eastern Bay of Plenty was blocked by protesters.
The seven-year battle between Mr Takamore's former partner Denise Clarke and his Tuhoe whanau flared up again on Thursday night when Ms Clarke, the couple's two children, police, lawyers and funeral staff turned up in Kutarere to prepare for yesterday's planned disinterment of Mr Takamore's body. It was abandoned after protesters blocked the road.
Last night a police spokeswoman said that because the disinterment could not be done peacefully, the issue would be back before the sheriff of the High Court in Christchurch to decide what would happen next.
"Whatever happens we may be called to keep the peace again."
Ms Clarke's lawyer Gary Knight was reported yesterday as saying he expected the battle to take Mr Takamore's body to Christchurch to continue. He was quoted as saying, "You could not have a bunch of people choosing to ignore the highest court in the land."
Mr Takamore had been living in Christchurch for 20 years before his 2007 death and Ms Clarke, the executor of his estate, planned to bury him there.
His Tuhoe family travelled to Christchurch and, against Ms Clarke's wishes, brought his body back to Kutarere where he was buried beside his father.
Since then a bitter legal war between Ms Clarke and the Takamores has waged with the Supreme Court having the final say in December 2012 when an appeal to keep Mr Takamore in Kutarere was dismissed.
Mr Takamore's sister Josie Takamore said up to 30 police officers were on the road near Kutarere Marae about 5am yesterday for the planned disinterment, although police say there were far fewer.
She said police arrived at the urupa (cemetery) and spoke to a kaumatua, who refused to move.
"He was saying, 'No, absolutely no way you're moving my moko'," Ms Takamore said.
"We had blocked the road down the bottom to the urupa just so [any] digger and excavator couldn't get through."
Area commander for Eastern Bay of Plenty, Inspector Kevin Taylor, said police abandoned the planned disinterment for safety reasons.
"Our aim was for the disinterment to be carried out in a dignified and non-confrontational way. Safety was a priority and when it became clear that tensions were escalating, and there was a risk that the safety of the contractors might be in jeopardy, a decision was made to withdraw from the site."
Mr Taylor said only four police staff went to the marae. A further 10 officers were on standby in vehicles away from the marae in case the need arose but they were never deployed, he said.
"We were extremely mindful to be sensitive to the situation with a low-key police presence. The local senior sergeant and iwi liaison officer, who have been liaising with all the parties, were present at the urupa with a local community constable."
Up to 60 whanau members were at the marae on Thursday and yesterday morning.
Most had gone home by noon yesterday but the whanau planned to take turns sitting by the gravesite of Mr Takamore if necessary.
"We're tired but we're still on edge and still have our guard up in case they come back," Ms Takamore said.
"One whiff of them here and all it will take is one phone call and we'll all be up there again.
"This has opened new wounds but there's a positive feeling among us, this whanau feeling that we all believe absolutely that he needs to stay here.
"This has been really stressful for us, year after year and we're still missing him. I miss his laugh but the biggest part we're missing is being able to see him anymore."
A kuia of Kutarere Marae, Waiharakeke Te Rau-Aroha Whitewood said a meeting was held this week where the elders said they would support the Takamore family in what they decided.
"From me personally, I feel for the wife, but at the same time, I feel for the whanau down here.
"We said to the whanau they have our support, whatever that you want, we support you as long as it runs along with tikanga [customs] and the main message from the family is that they want him kept here."
Additional reporting Katee Shanks & Alison King