Killed journalist had unique mutation

19:39, Dec 11 2012
Phillip Cottrell
MURDERED: Phillip Cottrell, the Radio NZ journalist who died after being beaten in Wellington's Boulcott St.

A unique mutation of a brittle bone disease has recently been discovered in samples taken from the journalist who died after being attacked on his way home from work in central Wellington.

Phil Cottrell, who died a year ago yesterday, and his sister Sue Hollows volunteered for a study into the inherited condition they both had, osteogenesis imperfecta.

Two months ago it was learned that they have a unique mutation that has so far not been described in anyone else in the world, endocrinologist John Delahunt said in evidence at the trial of the two men accused of murdering Mr Cottrell.

Phillip Cottrell murder accused
ACCUSED: Nicho Allan Waipuka, left, and Manuel Renera Robinson are on trial in the Wellington High Court for murdering journalist Phillip Cottrell.

Dr Delahunt said that, because it had only just been discovered, it was not known what the effect would be on bone structure, fragility, or brittleness for Mr Cottrell, who had otherwise been diagnosed with one of the milder forms of the condition.

In the High Court at Wellington yesterday, a jury heard that Mr Cottrell, 43, died from a head injury.

Pathologist Marissa Feeney said bruises on his chin and chest were consistent with more than one impact, but fractures to his head, neck and arm were all on one side and consistent with falling, probably on to a hard, rough surface.


Dr Feeney agreed she had not seen evidence about statements allegedly made by Nicho Allan Waipuka, 20, and Manuel Renera Robinson, 18, who have pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Cottrell.

Waipuka has admitted punching Mr Cottrell once, but Robinson said he was on the other side of the road and not involved in what happened.

The jury has heard that witnesses have said both accused admitted assaulting Mr Cottrell. However, in court, the witnesses' evidence differed from what they told police.

Dr Feeney told the jury the severity of Mr Cottrell's injuries was out of proportion to the sort of damage typically seen in someone with normal bone quality.

The jury has heard that part of his skull shattered into more than 20 pieces, and it also had radiating fractures.

Orthopaedic surgeon Nigel Willis said one of the breaks in Mr Cottrell's left forearm was commonly seen from falling on to an outstretched arm.

But the complex break to his elbow area was not consistent with a fall. Other possibilities included it being from a kick, he said.

Earlier in the day, Melissa Rutene gave evidence that Waipuka had shown her how he had said to a man, "Got $2?" then punched him, and in the demonstration he added a kick.

She agreed she got the impression he was bragging or trying to be cool. Waipuka said he got $80 from the man and said he would not share it with Robinson.

Robinson told her he had not done anything to the man and that was why Waipuka would not share the money with him. The trial is continuing.


The unveiling of a memorial seat for Phil Cottrell has given his family and friends somewhere "to sit and reflect" on the life of the slain journalist.

The seat was unveiled in Boulcott St last night, across the road from where Mr Cottrell was attacked on December 10 last year.

The Radio New Zealand journalist, 43, suffered fatal injuries and died in hospital on December 11, a year ago yesterday.

His sister, Sue Hollows, said last night that the memorial seat, set in a newly created garden, would be a special place to remember her brother.

"It's lovely that there's going to be something permanent to remember him. And it's nice it has got some significance to Phil: the fact that it's here, with the gardens . . . Phil would have loved it."

But she added that the anniversary had been marred by the timing of the trial of two young men charged with Mr Cottrell's murder.

"It's very difficult. We had always planned to do something on the anniversary, so it has been very hard being in court and hearing what we've been hearing."

The unveiling was attended by about 40 friends, family and colleagues.

The Dominion Post