Editorial: Give the body back

They lost in the High Court. They lost in the Court of Appeal.

They lost in the Supreme Court. And now the Tuhoe body-snatchers are saying they will be "unhelpful" if the authorities come to reclaim the body of James Takamore.

There comes a point, and it has surely passed in this case, where "unhelpfulness" is recognised as rank illegality and a distinction is drawn between legitimate cultural sensitivities and grasping arrogance.

This is a case where Mr Takamore's sister and extended whanau have behaved with supreme haughtiness, snatching his body before burial in Christchurch and spiriting it away to inter him next to his father at Kutarere Marae, near Opotiki. This was against the wishes of his immediate family in Christchurch.

The latest finding, from Dame Sian Elias, conclude that his partner, Denise Clarke, who is also the executor of his estate, should be given the right to determine where he should be. And who could protest, given that he made his life with her and their two children for more than 20 years?

Ridiculously, even this latest ruling doesn't mean that things are resolved.

The Supreme Court finding, while ultimately backing Ms Clarke's rights, still points her towards further consultation with the family.

The upshot of which is that there will be another attempt at mutual agreement and if that fails to end in agreement, it's back to the High Court to seek an order to enforce the exhumation.

The wheels of justice would, at that stage, have gone slowly full circle. And if it comes to that there must be pointed legal consequence for any further mucking about.

We should have a care, however, not to be too expansive in projecting this conduct as being a simple case of tikanga v law.

Had it been that, the law should still have prevailed. But as it happens, the whanau's behaviour falters from both perspectives.

Yes, a degree of contention over a body is regarded as honourable to Maori.

But retired academic Ranginui Walker has said that ultimately it has been clear that widows have the final say.

Another academic, Rawiri Taonui, has detected little respect for Ms Clarke and her children, who had been confronted with no elders to shield them or speak on their behalf. They had been pressured to speak for themselves at a time when they were vulnerable and had been "taken advantage of by a whanau that created tikanga as they proceeded."

Exactly. This was, by any measure, disrespectful behaviour.

And it was illegal. It was a mean, bullying act that should have been corrected - and frankly punished - promptly.

The Supreme Court has not been without sympathy for both sides of the dispute and has pointed to "significant cross-cultural misunderstanding".

There probably was. This was a cross-cultural marriage.

But let's be clear about one thing: if Mr Takamore's whanau thought they would be able to get away with bodysnatching from a widow and her family, then that was the greatest misunderstanding at play.

The Southland Times