James Takamore's body recovery halted
BENN BATHGATE AND SHANE COWLISHAW
This morning's standoff near Opotiki where protesters blocked the disinterment of James Takamore, was a continuation of a protest that began last night, a lawyer involved says.
The body of the father of two, who has been the subject of years of legal wrangling since his death in 2007, was due to have been exhumed at 5.30am before being returned tomorrow to Christchurch, where his partner and children live.
Gary Knight, the lawyer of Takamore's widow Denise Clarke, said today that protesters formed a ring around the uruapa at Kutarere Marae last night, telling police and funeral directors they would have to force their way through.
Protesters were still present this morning preventing the disinterment.
"We'll die for this," one of the protesters said.
Knight said the disinterment was planned with the consent of the marae committee, and that the protest was not with their approval.
"This is coming down to an issue of the rule of law," he said.
"We have a judgment from the highest court in the land which the local Tuhoe seem intent to ignore. You cannot have a bunch of people choosing to ignore the highest court in the land."
Knight said that on the advice of the police he and Clarke did not attempt to access the marae this morning.
"The only safe course was strategic withdrawal." he said.
Knight said he was awaiting instruction from Clarke, but he expected the battle to bring Takamore's body to Christchurch would continue.
"After seven years what's a few more months?" he said.
The ceremony was to begin about 5am with the exhumation expected to take about two hours.
But the protesters blocked the road leading to the cemetery and the mood was angry.
A group men told media who had been invited to the disinterment, they were not welcome, and the road blocked by a number of cars.
As required by law, a Ministry of Health official was to be present during the exhumation. Police were initially on the scene but later left.
An upset Clarke said by phone that she did not expect the disinterment to happen today.
Speaking later she said she was frustrated by the delay.
"We were led to believe that he was coming home, you know ... it's quite frustrating when you're waiting for seven years and you think you're bringing him home and this happens," she said.
"We were led to believe that they agreed on all of this [the exhumation]."
Takamore's son Jamie said he was "pissed off" and angry when he saw cars being turned back from the cemetery at about 5.45am.
"Part of us thought something like this might happen, going on what we witnessed, sort of, the night before, but I went up [in the] early hours of the morning and from what I could tell it looked pretty positive like it was actually going to go ahead," he said.
The uncertainty was hard, he said.
"We just don't know – you get told one thing and they do another."
Takamore, who died of an aneurism, had lived with Clarke and their two children in Christchurch for nearly 20 years, and was due to be buried there.
But Tuhoe relatives took the body to his birthplace in the eastern Bay of Plenty where he was buried next to his father at Kutarere Marae.
Years of legal battles followed, with the Supreme Court finally ruling in Clarke's favour in December 2012.
Takamore was due to be reburied in Christchurch on August 17, the seventh anniversary of his death.
Clarke, who travelled to Whakatane yesterday had said she was "bloody relieved" the ordeal was almost at an end.
She and her children were preparing themselves for an emotional day, saying: "We don't know what to expect really until we get there."
Waikato University tikanga expert Pou Temara said it was good the marae committee had taken charge of the exhumation, as it gave some control back to Tuhoe.
- The Dominion Post