19 May 2010

Senior policeman breaks down recalling fatal night

7:59 pm on 19 May 2010

A policeman who tried to act as a decoy on the night his colleagues were shot broke down in court today when describing how he had worked for nine years alongside Sergeant Don Wilkinson, who died of gunshot wounds that night.

John Skinner and Iain Clegg are on trial in the High Court at Auckland charged with murdering Sgt Wilkinson and attempting to murder another officer in September 2008.

The officers were shot after being discovered trying to attach a tracking device to Mr Skinner's car outside his house in Mangere, which was suspected of being used as a methamphetamine lab.

The Crown says the defendants chased the officers, shooting both three times at close range with a high-powered rifle.

At gunman's mercy - had to back off

Officer W is the head of the covert unit to which Sgt Wilkinson belonged and has been a policeman for more than four decades.

He told the court that he tried to deflect attention from Sgt Wilkinson and the other officer by posing as a late-night walker. He says he was confronted by a man who pointed what looked like a rifle directly at him and asked him to put his hands up.

Officer W says he was at the mercy of the gunman until he apologised and sped off in a car driven by another man in the same direction that Sgt Wilkinson and his partner had fled.

Body armour was out of favour

Officer W says he and Sgt Wilkinson chose not wear their stab-proof vests that night because they are bulky, restrictive and in his view quite detectable.

He added that the fact they are such a hindrance is a serious safety issue for the police.

Sgt Wilkinson's partner was also shot three times but was wearing his stab-proof vest and survived.

On Tuesday, another witness, Detective Sergeant Gregory Holmes, also broke down while testifying to the court.

Det Sgt Holmes, the person who found the injured officers, says he was relieved at first, thinking they were just hiding. But it quickly became apparent that was not the case.

Mr Holmes, who was in charge of the operation, broke down in tears as he described what went wrong.

Under cross-examination, he agreed that he knew Mr Skinner had an interest in BB guns and air rifles and had bought and sold such items on TradeMe.