A silver watch given to Leo Lipp-Neighbours by his family on his birthday was at the centre of police raids trying to discover the fate of the missing Nelson teenager.
Police seized computer equipment and other electronic items from one of three rental properties they searched in Blenheim last week.
Investigators were acting after they received new information about the case. Police believe Lipp-Neighbours, 19, a Canterbury University engineering student, last seen in Nelson in January 2010, fell victim to foul play.
The police warrant says investigators were looking for a silver watch with an engraving that read: ‘‘Happy Birthday Leo love mum and family.’’
Leo’s mother, Charlotte Lipp, could not be reached for comment.Police were also looking for vehicle parts of Leo’s distinctive orange Toyota Corolla wagon, which has never been found.A man living at one of the raided properties says he is innocent and police have been supplied with false information.
Detective Sergeant Mark Kaveney, who has led the investigation from the start, said yesterday that police searched three rental properties in Blenheim last Tuesday.Computer equipment, hard drives and DVDs were seized and would be forensically examined.
People living at the houses would not be interviewed until it was known whether the equipment contained any information useful to the police investigation, he said.
‘‘We want to check emails, we want to check if anyone’s been talking about Leo.’’
Kaveney would not elaborate further.
‘‘I’d like to have found parts of the vehicle or sufficient information to lead to Leo’s location,’’ he said.
‘‘I wouldn’t think we are any closer [to finding him] at this stage.’’
One of the men living at the properties told The Press that eight police officers from Nelson and Blenheim arrived at his house last week.
They had a search warrant based on suspicion of manslaughter, murder and grievous bodily harm.
‘‘I’m an innocent man; there is no possible lead to my house or property,’’ 44-year-old Brendon Phillips said.
Phillips said he had never heard of Lipp-Neighbours other than seeing his face on a poster in the Blenheim police station.
He was charged with cultivating cannabis.
Phillips said he believed police had been given false information.‘‘This implicates me in murder. Here is an innocent man implicated.’
The only charges he had ever received was disorderly behaviour for preaching the Bible, he said.
Police did not initially think Lipp-Neighbours’ disappearance was suspicious, but the inquiry changed tack in September after a case review.
Police believe the most likely scenario is that he was killed. ’Residents of another property allowed police to search their home voluntarily. Kaveney believed the people living at the homes were not known to Lipp-Neighbours.
Police were still receiving information from the public about Lipp-Neighbours which was ‘‘very pleasing’’.
There were still sightings of his car that had to be checked, he said.
‘‘I can’t go into details until we’ve done that.’’Friend Ben Clark, who was the last to see Lipp-Neighbours, said it was good news police were still receiving leads from the public.
He was unaware of the raids.‘‘Hopefully it turns out to be something.’’
Lipp-Neighbours was last seen leaving Clark’s Washington Valley flat. He had been drinking with friends at a Nelson club earlier in the night. A $50,000 reward offered in 2010 remains unclaimed.
- The Press
Which memorial design do you like most?Related story: Christchurch earthquake memorial designs unveiled