Driver tells of grisly body discovery

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 15:47 05/12/2012
Daniel Tobin

Police continue with their scene investigation after a body was found in a burnt-out car near the Ashley river.

shane bell std
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SUSPICIOUS DEATH: Shane Bell.
bell subaru std
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APPEAL: Police are appealing for any sightings of a silver Subaru station wagon similar to this one.

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A four-wheel driver who made the grisly discovery of a burnt out car with a body inside on Sunday has described feeling ''pretty weirded out'' by what he saw.

Mechanic Lance Henderson, 33, was out on the Ashley riverbed with his brother following behind, when he noticed the car next to the track at the southern end of Dunlops Rd, near Loburn.

He said it ''just looked like a burnt out car'' but out of curiosity, stopped to take a closer look.

''It's like anything new in an area you frequent, you go and have a look,'' he said.

Henderson said it took a while before he spotted something in the front seat.

''I was walking back to my truck to carry on and something caught my eye,'' he said.

At first, he thought it was a dead sheep someone had put in there ''to try to be funny, to freak people out''.

On closer inspection, he realised that it was a body.

''I got on the phone straight away to police. They were there within probably 20 minutes,'' he said.

Police say the body is highly likely to be that of self-employed car salesman Shane Malcolm Bell, 28.

Henderson said the scene ''looked suspicious'' at the time.

''I was pretty weirded out for a day or so,'' he said.

Henderson has lived in Rangiora for about seven years and said he used the track regularly for four-wheel driving. 

He had seen six or seven burnt out cars on the Ashley River bed in that time.

''It's certainly not a really common occurrence, but it does happen.''

Henderson said they remained with police at the scene about four hours.

''It's a bit of a shame you have to find a person in that state,'' he said.

''It's one of those things. You never know what you are going to find when you are out in places like that. When you find it, you just deal with it and do what you have to do.''

It was not until a couple of days later that he had ''really thought about it'', he said.

Henderson said it had not put him off using the area for four-wheel-driving.

''I'll be back out there at the weekend if the weather plays it's part, [but] I don't know if I will go to that particularly area.''

A police spokesman said last night the investigation was "not a homicide inquiry".

However, Detective Senior Sergeant Brian Archer said the death was still being treated as suspicious.

Archer said the last reported sighting of Bell was at his home in the Christchurch suburb of Dallington on Thursday morning.

Officers had established that the car was most likely burnt before Thursday evening.

A member of the public told police they had seen the burnt-out shell of the car in the area about 4pm to 5pm on Thursday.

Police had yet to determine what caused the fire.

Archer said police had now also discounted bullet holes found in the side of the car as being related to the fire or the death.

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A group of recreational shooters came forward yesterday and told police they fired shots at the burnt-out vehicle using a rifle.

An autopsy was completed yesterday and the car removed from the scene.

Further forensic examination would be undertaken to fully confirm the deceased's identity, Archer said.

Police had been in contact with Bell's family and partner.

"It's fair to say [the family] are extremely upset about the news and are trying to understand what has happened," Archer said.

"At this stage the inquiry remains a suspicious death investigation. We are trying to put together a picture of the deceased's movements in the days leading up to his death."

Police are also continuing to appeal for any sightings of the silver Subaru station wagon before Thursday evening, and for anyone who saw Bell in the days leading up to Thursday.

Anyone with information was asked to phone police on 363 7400.

- The Press

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