‘Never seen anything like it’: Law expert on missing children and $10,000 reward  

Clockwise from top left, Thomas Phillips, Jayda Jin, Ember Phillips and  Maverick Callum-Phillips.

Tom Phillips and his three young children, Jayda, Maverick, and Ember have not been seen since December 2022. Photo: Supplied / NZ Police

A senior law expert is warning those who give false information in an attempt to get the reward for the missing Marokopa children could find themselves in trouble with the authorities.

Jayda, Maverick and Ember Phillips have not been seen since 9 December 2021, when their father Tom Phillips disappeared with them for a second time.

The children’s family last week said they were offering $10,000 for information leading to their safe return.

Waikato University senior law lecturer Anna-Marie Brennan said because there was a police search ongoing for the children, and if the family were to hand over the information to the authorities which proved to be false, those who originally offered the information could face consequences.

“If it’s not true or inaccurate or throws the police off the search to find these children that individual could be charged with wasting police time.”

This is what Phillips has already been charged with in relation to the extensive search conducted when he took the children into the bush in September 2021.

Brennan agrees that for Phillips to have evaded authorities for so long and without an electronic trace someone is likely to be helping him.

“I would have a guess there is someone in the background aiding and abetting him and of course that individual needs to be aware that if they are offering material assistance to him, they could find themselves in trouble with the police as well.”

She is concerned for the children’s physical and psychological well-being.

“I think it speaks to the lack of resourcing around the operation to locate these children as well. And I fear that actually the authorities here are not taking the matter that seriously.”

Brennan also said the family offering the reward had to ensure they followed through with it.

“The family by offering the reward are making an offer to the public, the public don’t have to respond to, but if a member of the public does have information that can lead to the finding of these children, the family then have a legal duty to hand over the reward to the person who has given the information.”

Part of the reward, $4598.40, does come from donations to the family via a Givealittle page.

“Givealittle funding pages, the moderators would have very strict rules about the use of those funds.”

Brennan said in a New Zealand context she had never seen a case like it, with Phillips able to take his children away for over a year and not be found, and also a reward offered by the family.

“I think this situation of missing people and children is very rare, it is actually quite common in the United States, but again New Zealand has been influenced directly a lot by the United Kingdom and even in the UK rewards wouldn’t be that common either.”

Brennan is hoping that a reward could entice someone to do the right thing and encourage them to give over information of the children’s whereabouts.

“It’s really a tragic situation for the children – they’ve been taken away from everything they know. We don’t know if they have a safe warm roof over their head. Have they got clothes? Food to eat? But also questions about their development as well.”

This story was originally published by Stuff.

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