Widow vows to take legal action as husband's body taken by whānau and buried

6:24 am on 9 June 2022

A wife is vowing to fight to get her husband back after she was left distraught when his body was forcibly taken from their home by his whānau and taken back to his marae.

Tommy Murray.

Tommy Murray. Photo: Supplied

Tommy Murray, who was 54, had a heart problem and died suddenly at a boxing gym last Tuesday in Lower Hutt.

He has been described as a big fella who was cheeky and very giving to those around him.

His wife, Sara Murray, took him to their house in Naenae to lie before his cremation. His ashes were to be kept in Wellington.

Sara said she and her husband had spoken in depth about what he wanted after his death and he was clear he wanted to be cremated and remain close to her.

Her friends say she was inconsolable, and hardly responsive as she grieved her husband.

Tommy had a self-admitted checkered past but after being deported back to New Zealand from Australia a few years ago, he was focused on bettering himself for his whānau and reconnecting with this taha Māori. He recently received his mataora - full facial moko.

His wife said he had become disconnected from his culture and his whānau up north but was wanting to change that.

'It was ugly'

On Sunday, about 8.30pm, some of Tommy's whānau arrived at the Wellington home saying they came with aroha and manaaki to take him home back to Whangapē to be buried.

Sara said there was never a discussion about that and the whānau took her husband's body forcibly.

A spokesperson for Sara, who wishes to remain anonymous, said if being taken back to the north was what her husband wanted, Sara would have supported it - even going as far as to say Sara would have preferred to bury him but that is not what he wanted.

The decision had clearly been made by Tommy's whānau, people with Sara said, and they were going to take the tupāpāku no matter what.

Witnesses said things became violent and the family claim teenagers and others trying to stop the tupāpāku being taken were injured.

Holes were put in the wall, they said, and the lid to the coffin was taken separately - without the keys to secure it.

"When they walked in, Sara opened the door. One of the ladies gave her a hug, but they were pushing [her] backwards into the room," Sara Murray's spokesperson said.

"One of the men he said, 'you have to help us take him home', and then that's when she realised. And that's when all the chaos happened and they picked him up and it was ugly. Very ugly. And there's holes on the walls as well, from what they did."

The ordeal was made worse by the coffin being taken away with the lid off.

Those claiming they were injured when the tupāpāku was being taken say they have medical records of the injuries, as well as CCTV footage of the coffin being taken. They say they will take legal action.

Tommy was taken up north and was buried at his urupā the next day.

RNZ has contacted the Murray whānau for comment.

But RNZ understands their reasoning was they were just following tikanga and fulfilling the wishes of his whānau who wanted him to bury him in Whangapē.

For Māori, the tikanga, or protocol, is that you are buried in the whenua in which you come from as it is where you have come from, therefore it's where you are returned. As an example, whenua is also the word for placenta - which is also traditionally buried where you came from, showing the inherent link you have with your ancestors and the land.

Cremation is an uncommon practice for Māori and in many cases goes against tikanga.

It is understood by some the essence of a person is in the bones - ngā koiwi, the most sacred part of the person, therefore, it's believed they shouldn't be tampered with.

In a statement, police said they spoke with both sides of the family, in an attempt to have them come to an agreement.

Police said unfortunately that did not happen and the body was later transported north by whānau members.

The officers attending sought advice and it was determined that in this instance, police were not able to retrieve the body.

"We acknowledge the distress to all involved as they grieve their loved one, and appreciate the extra distress such a dispute can cause at what is already a difficult time."

Whānau in Naenae have been provided support, and were advised on the legal avenues available to them.

Meanwhile, Sara said she would continue to fight to have Tommy's body returned - because that was her husband's wish.

She will take legal action and press charges for the injuries caused.

Case of James Takamore

The case bears similarities to that of James Takamore who died in 2007 and was due to be buried in Christchurch, but his Tūhoe whānau took his body to a family cemetery in the Bay of Plenty - against his partner's wishes.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that Takamore's partner, Denise Clarke, could decide where he should be buried.

Both parties agreed to a resolution in 2015 after court mediation in Christchurch and he remains buried at Kutarere urupa in Bay of Plenty.