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Statement regarding Operation Wheaton sentencing

NEW ZEALAND, December 9 - Please attribute to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster:

Police acknowledge the sentencing today for Eli Epiha, who is responsible for the murder of Constable Matt Hunt, attempted murder of Constable Dave Goldfinch and the injuring of a member of the public.

Epiha was sentenced at the High Court in Auckland today to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 27 years.

We welcome today’s sentence and we hope it brings some relief for Matt’s friends and family, as well as Constable Goldfinch and Police staff across New Zealand, but it does not change the devastating outcome of what occurred on 19 June 2020.

Constable Matt Hunt and Constable Dave Goldfinch arrived at work on a sunny Friday morning, going to work like any other shift to help people. They arrived at the scene in Massey, thinking the offender had been injured in a car accident and without hesitation went to help him.

The cowardly and appalling act that followed has changed many people’s lives forever. Matt’s family, his friends, his workmates.  My staff will forever remember the deep impact of what occurred and the horrific manner in which it occurred.

Aged just 28, Constable Hunt had a promising Police career and his whole life ahead of him until his life was so cruelly taken. A life taken in just a few moments, has left behind family, friends and colleagues who still feel deep pain and grief.

The graphic video evidence showing the offender’s actions, and the continuing gunshots we heard in another video, knowing that those shots were directed solely at two Police Officers, was upsetting for our staff and their families across the country. I doubt there has been a single officer who hasn’t been impacted by these tragic events or thought ‘that could have been me’, due to the complete randomness and unprovoked nature of the attack.

I want to acknowledge the incredible strength, and dignity demonstrated by Matt’s family – particularly his mum Diane and sister Ellie – and his friends, as they have had to sit through a trial with quite shocking and detailed evidence of the callous way that Matt was shot, and casually left to die by the offender.  We continue to stand with Diane and Ellie, and they will always be part of our police family.

For Constable Goldfinch, I know he carries a particular burden knowing he will forever carry with him the awful memories of that day. NZ Police and in particular Waitematā District has wrapped support around Dave and will continue to do so as we work to support and transition him back into operational Policing. I am proud of his determination to do so and we are here to support him.

The courage Dave showed in retelling the events of that morning was widely admired by hundreds of our staff and perhaps the only source of comfort to our staff during the trauma of the high court trial.

We also acknowledge the innocent member of our community who was caught up in this incident and injured when he was struck by a vehicle, such was the total disregard for other people’s lives,

I also want to acknowledge the staff at the Orewa Police Station, who worked closely with Matt for two years, have been shattered by his death and miss him every day. 

Matt used to always arrive before work to do his paperwork and his friends have talked about still expecting to see him there when they arrive. Seeing his locker, the files that he worked on and the photograph of him in the hallway is a constant reminder of not only his absence, but also of the way he died while on duty and protecting his community.  

We wish to thank the many members of the public who laid flowers, sent cards and simply said ‘sorry for your loss’ in the days and weeks after the attack. We thank our community once again for the incredible support they have shown Matt’s family following his death and the support for Dave and our Police staff.

This incident has been a bitter reminder of the dangers of policing. I am incredibly proud of how our staff continue to show up for work to put themselves between our community, and harm’s way.  But my staff have a right to expect that they can go home safe to their loved ones at the end of a shift.

Our staff safety remains my number one focus as I never wish to see this repeated.

We will ensure that Matt’s legacy will never be forgotten, and his memory will always live on in the hearts of his Police family. Today, I ask our community to not remember the deliberate, and awful acts of one individual, but to honour Matt’s life by remembering the great work he did, and that done by police all around the country.

ENDS

Shelley Nahr/NZ Police