Officer sobs in court over shot colleagues

A seasoned police officer broke down sobbing as he told a courtroom of the moment he found his colleagues gunned down in a driveway during a secret police operation.

A jury in the High Court at Auckland was told yesterday that the officer at first believed his workmates were hiding before discovering they had been shot.

John Ward Skinner, 37, and Iain Lindsay Clegg, 33, are charged with murdering Sergeant Don Wilkinson on September 11, 2008. They are also accused of the attempted murder of a second officer whose name is suppressed. Skinner is also charged with assault with a firearm. Both denied the charges when their trial began on Monday.

Mr Wilkinson, 46, was shot after he tried to install a tracking device on a car outside a suspected P lab in Hain Ave, Mangere. His partner, identified only as Officer M, was shot but survived.

The officer in charge of Operation Sturgeon, Detective Sergeant Gregory Holmes, told the court yesterday that police had begun investigating Skinner, a suspected methamphetamine manufacturer, in May 2008.

Police had applied to a district court judge for a tracking device to be placed secretly on Skinner’s car. On the night of the shooting, Mr Holmes held a briefing at 12.30am to discuss the night’s task. One of the officers involved in the operation, Constable Jeremy Stewart, reported that he had walked past Skinner’s house twice, the lights were on and an unknown car was parked outside.

But the decision was made for the operation to go ahead and two tactical support unit officers, Mr Wilkinson and Officer M, moved on to the property, Mr Holmes said.

“It’s not uncommon for us to do these installations while people are at home and up and about. It’s what we have to deal with.”

He told the court he stayed in his car at a designated pick-up point until he heard a quiet, distressed voice on the radio.

He then sank his head into his hands and sobbed before he could continue his evidence.

“I heard someone saying, `We need help, we need help.’

“I remember thinking when I first saw them, I thought it was a huge relief because I thought they were all right and they were just hiding there.

“It wasn’t until I got closer that I realised that something had gone wrong.”

The two officers were lying on a concrete driveway, hunched up and facing toward the road. Their heads were leaning against the fence and there was blood on the driveway.

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