12 Sep 2008

Murder charge after policeman killed in Sth Auckland

5:59 am on 12 September 2008

Police have charged a man with murder and another with assault after an officer was shot dead during a covert operation in Mangere, South Auckland. A second officer was injured.

The plainclothes officers were targetting a suspected methamphetamine laboratory in Hain Avenue when they were fired on at 1.45am on Thursday.

Sergeant Don Wilkinson, 46, died immediately from a single gunshot wound, while the other officer is in hospital with injuries that are not life-threatening.

The injured officer was in a stable condition at Middlemore Hospital and was to undergo surgery on Thursday.

A 37-year-old man has been charged with murdering Mr Wilkinson. Another man, aged 34, has been charged with assaulting him.

The accused were remanded in custody until later this month when they appeared at Manukau District Court on Thursday afternoon. Police have not laid any charges in relation to several shots fired at the officer who survived the incident.

Police have discovered what they believe is the gun responsible for Mr Wilkinson's death. Auckland Superintendent Ted Cox says a high-performance 5.5 calibre gas-powered air rifle was found at an address on Thursday afternoon.

The officers were from Auckland Metro Crime and Operations Support, a service based in Otahuhu.

Mr Cox said Mr Wilkinson and another officer had been installing a tracking device on a vehicle as part of the undercover operation. He said two armed men came out of the property, got into a car, chased the officers as they fled down the road and caught up with them about 75m from the property.

Two inquiries begin

Two inquiries have been launched after the death of Mr Wilkinson, a technical support officer who had been with the force for nine years.

A homicide investigation is under way and police are also carrying out an internal review of covert operations to see if any lessons can be learned.

However, Police Commissioner Howard Broad says it appears proper procedure was followed.

Superintendent Cox says the operation would have been done differently if they had known weapons were in the house. He said there was nothing about the people targetted that indicated a heightened concern, so the Armed Offenders Squad was not used during the initial stages of the operation.

"We did have armed officers nearby to assist if required. These events unfolded very, very quickly and they were unable to respond to save their colleagues."

Armed Offenders Squad officers were later called in to help enter the house, where they found several people, including an 11-month-old baby. The property was being assessed for any contamination risk from methamphetamine production.

MPs pay tribute

MPs paid tribute to Sergeant Wilkinson in Parliament on Thursday. Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen expressed the House's gratitude for the sacrifices police officers make willingly on behalf of New Zealand citizens every day.

Dr Cullen says Parliament extends its deep sympathy to Sergeant Wilkinson's family, and sends its hopes for a speedy recovery for his colleague.

Prime Minister Helen Clark also offered her personal condolences, saying those responsible for the crime will be severely punished.

National Party leader John Key offered his sympathies to the family of both officers and says New Zealanders will be saddened by another death of a police officer on duty.

Mr Wilkinson is the 28th police officer to be killed on duty and the second this year.

In July, Sergeant Derek Wootton was struck by a car in Wellington's Titahi Bay.

A man charged with Mr Wootton's murder is still before the courts.