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Missing Marokopa family: How Tom Phillips is disguising himself

Jul 19, 2023

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Police have revealed how wanted father Tom Phillips is disguising himself in public - by wearing a beanie, glasses and a surgical mask.

Locals have also described chasing Phillips in the stolen ute he was driving near Kawhia.

Inspector Will Loughrin, of the Waikato Police, said there had been another confirmed sighting of Phillips at a second Bunnings on Kahikatea Drive in south Hamilton between 3pm and 4pm on Wednesday and other sightings of the ute were reported yesterday.

Police have today released a photo of him at Bunnings Te Rapa and revealed he was trying to disguise himself by wearing a white beanie, glasses, a surgical mask and a blue zip-up jacket.

Loughrin said police believed he was wearing a number of layers of clothing below the jacket as part of the disguise.

“He is trying to hide his identity,” he said.

Phillips has been on the run with his three children Jayda, 10, Maverick, 8, and Ember, 7, since December 2021.

Loughrin would not say what Phillips was buying during his two Bunnings trips on different sides of Hamilton between 3pm and 4pm on Wednesday.

Photos released by the police appear to show four 20L water storage containers, a red plastic fuel can, two rolls of plastic mesh and six 20L Bunnings buckets - all of which are listed for sale on the store’s website, in the back of the ute as he drove out of the Te Rapa Bunnings car park just after 4pm.

Two of the buckets are upright with lids on them and the other buckets are lying down in a stack, but appear to have other objects inside.

Loughrin also said they had received further sightings of the stolen ute he was driving, since police put out an appeal yesterday.

The ute was stolen from Honikiwi near Otorohanga on the same day of the Bunnings trips, he said.

Police have revealed a 2003 bronze-coloured Toyota Hilux flat-deck ute, believed to be driven by Phillips, was seen in the Pokuru area near Te Awamutu around 12.30pm on Wednesday.

He then visited Bunnings South and moved on to Bunnings in Te Rapa about 4pm where he was seen by someone who knew him.

The same ute was then seen in Kawhia around 6.45pm that evening, where Phillips was believed to be involved in an altercation with another vehicle.

Loughrin said the vehicle was spotted in Kawhia on three separate occasions on Wednesday.

Police were contacted, and responded immediately to the Kawhia area, but were unable to find the ute - even with the help of the police helicopter.

Loughrin said he believed people in the community were helping Phillips and appealed for them to come forward.

“This is the best piece of information we’ve had for some time and that’s why we immediately released this to the community because we need their help to find Tom and the children.

“We need the community’s eyes and ears to help us bring this to a close.”

He said police were “regularly talking to people” who know Phillips, including associates and family members, he said.

Yesterday, police said they were the first confirmed sightings of him since February 2021.

“This is incredibly encouraging, and we are imploring the public to please come forward with what you know,” Loughrin said.

“There are family who are desperately missing them, and police want to ensure their welfare.

“We’re asking anyone who may have seen the Toyota ute, anywhere in the Waikato area, over the last few days to please come forward to police via 111 and let us know.”

Phillips and his children first went missing in September 2021, sparking a massive ground, sea and air search with family at home fearing the worst as the father’s grey Toyota Hilux was found on the beach, with waves crashing against it.

They returned home after 17 days.

In October, police charged Phillips with wasteful deployment of police resources.

But Phillips didn’t show up at the Te Kuiti District Court for his first appearance on January 12, 2022. A warrant was then issued for Phillips’ arrest.

He and his children haven’t been seen since December 9, 2021.

Waikato locals have described a group of people chasing Phillips, who was driving a stolen ute, before losing him near the Kawhia lookout on State Highway 31 on Wednesday night.

Speaking to RNZ, Te Kauri Lodge custodian Ruby said locals had recognised the stolen ute in Pirongia and chased it.

She said the men pursuing the ute seemed to be aware it was Phillips who was in the car.

“They must have come here and one of the other fellas went up by the lookout and blocked off the road up there,” she told RNZ.

Phillips turned into a farm driveway next to Te Kauri lodge, where he smashed the gate, and hid, Ruby said.

The cars chasing Phillips drove straight passed the farm he was hiding on and realised they had lost him when they got to the lookout and were told he hadn’t come past.

Ruby, who went to check on the lodge that night when she heard what was going on, believed Phillips must have turned around and driven back the way he had come.

When Ruby arrived at the lodge, one police officer was there talking to those who gave chase but shortly after a number of police cars arrived to search for Phillips and the ute.

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