13 Jul 2008

Officer died doing what he loved, say family

7:32 am on 13 July 2008

The family of a Porirua policeman killed in the line of duty say they have lost a committed brother, son and police officer who died doing a job he loved.

Sergeant Derek Wootton, 52, was fatally struck by a stolen vehicle in Titahi Bay, near Wellington, just after laying a set of road spikes about 3am on Friday.

Porirua police say they have been deeply touched by the public's support and have received more than 20 bunches of flowers and countless messages of sympathy and food since Friday.

Twelve of Sergeant Wootton's relatives spoke at an emotional news conference at Porirua Police Station on Saturday afternoon.

Mr Wootton's partner of more than 10 years, Bronwyn Hewitt, says she has lost her "soul mate".

Ms Hewitt works in a police communication centre and says though she knows the risks of the job, she still cannot believe what has happened.

Older brother John says Sergeant Wootton was a committed police officer with sharp wit and pragmatism and his life ended while doing a job he loved. Younger brother and fellow policeman, Dave, says he has lost a brother and a best friend.

The Wootton family say the Porirua community and police have been incredibly supportive.

The funeral is expected to be held on Wednesday at the Porirua Police College.

Driver in custody

Police say the incident started when a Black Honda Prelude was stolen in Tawa, north of Wellington. Police then pursued the vehicle through residential streets at speeds reaching 160kmh.

Sergeant Wootton had set down road spikes in Dimock Street, Titahi Bay, to try to stop the stolen car, and was fatally hit about 3am.

The driver, an unemployed man, 32, appeared in Porirua District Court on Friday charged with dangerous driving causing death, robbery, failing to stop, dangerous driving and kidnapping. The accused, whose name is suppressed, was remanded in custody.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad says the nature of the incident requires a number of different investigations, including a review by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

The Coroner has been informed, and a separate internal police inquiry is also required.

Experienced officer

Wellington Police District Commander Pieri Munroe described Mr Wootton as an experienced frontline supervisor who had joined the police in 1994.

Police say little is known about how Sergeant Wootton deployed the road spikes but guidelines are given to officers.

National Manager of Road Policing, Superintendent Paula Rose, says spikes are used to stop vehicles only when it is safe to do so.

"It's something we consider as a safe option, where the environment is safe, where there is little traffic, where we've really used up other options," she says.

"We are only able to deploy spikes with the approval and direct authority of the pursuit controller."

Terrible tragedy - PM

Prime Minister Helen Clark says the thoughts of every New Zealander are with the family of Sergeant Wootton, whose death she described as a terrible tragedy.

Miss Clark says police put their lives on the line fighting crime in the community, and no officer should have to pay that ultimate price.

Acting Police Minister Phil Goff says 26 other police officers have lost their lives in the line of duty - clear evidence of the sacrifice made by officers in maintaining the safety and security of all New Zealanders.

Sergeant Wootton was had worked as a builder and a milkman before joining the police and was first posted to Porirua as a constable on his graduation in 1994.

Friend and fellow Norths Rugby Club member Laurie Yarrall says he had a good nature and was willing to help anyone. He says the Wootton family has done a lot for the Porirua community over the years.