Manslaughter for cop killer

STILL GRIEVING: Cath Wootton keeps photographs of her son lined up on her mantle piece at home.
CRAIG SIMCOX/The Dominion Post
STILL GRIEVING: Cath Wootton keeps photographs of her son lined up on her mantle piece at home.

The grieving mother of police officer Derek Wootton believes her son's killer got away with murder.

Andrew Popo, 33, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the High Court at Wellington yesterday, following a defence offer to resolve the case.

Popo was driving a Honda Prelude that hit the 52-year-old Porirua police sergeant early on July 11, killing him instantly.

Mr Wootton's mother, Cath, was not in court to hear the guilty plea, but reacted angrily to the deal reached by prosecutors and Popo's lawyers.

"What happened to Derek was murder. I don't care what anybody says, it was murder," she said.

However, the lead investigator in the case said the result was "the appropriate outcome".

"I will go for what is right, and in the circumstances, this is right," Porirua Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Oxnam said. "The correct decision has been made."

Mr Wootton was struck by the car while laying road spikes in Dimock St, Titahi Bay.

The Crown alleged that the car, taken by Popo from another man the night before, had been travelling at up to 150kmh during the police chase that led to the tragedy.

Popo also pleaded guilty to injuring a man and unlawfully taking his car in Tawa, and driving while disqualified. He still faces a charge of kidnapping a teenager.

Crown prosecutor Grant Burston said Popo's lawyer, Christopher Stevenson, had proposed a resolution of all but the kidnapping charge and that had been accepted.

Justice Alan MacKenzie agreed to the murder charge being reduced to manslaughter under a Crimes Act provision to allow changes "conducive to the ends of justice".

Mr Wootton's fiancee, Bronwyn Hewitt, was told of the plea deal on Monday. She said Popo's manslaughter plea was "a bit of a shock" but was relieved she did not have to sit through a trial. "Nothing is going to change. It's still not going to bring Derek back. In the back of my mind I knew it was going to be hard to prove [murder] and had been told that. I just left it up to the experts."

However, Ms Hewitt was disappointed Popo had avoided a murder charge. "I was hoping that not only for the rest of the police, that do their job every day, I was hoping that we might have set a precedent."

Mrs Wootton said the case had left her feeling cynical.

"You have got to believe that they will do the right thing for you, but sometimes it is very hard," she said. "We have had more than our share of sadness."

Popo will be back in court on April 20 for a sentencing date to be set.


The family of Andrew Popo say he never meant to kill anyone and they will support him in prison.

Popo's uncle, Popo Su'a, said yesterday that his nephew should not have been charged with murder for killing Porirua police sergeant Derek Wootton.

Popo's plea of guilty to manslaughter was "best for him", Mr Su'a said. "It wasn't something he did on purpose. It wasn't murder."

Mr Su'a, a minister of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, said: "What happened saddens me, not only for him but also for the police officer's family. But I believe it wasn't intentional. It wasn't his fault, in a way."

Several members of Popo's family were in court yesterday, and Mr Su'a said the family would stand by him.

"We are all working to help him and support him during his life in prison. We will be working towards trying to get him some counselling, to make him see what he has done.

"I hope for a change of his life. He's got a lot in front of him. We all love him."

The Dominion Post