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Garbage Sifted
On Wednesday 11 March police and airforce personnel began searching through garbage at the Picton tip. The search was then the latest development in the search for friends Olivia Hope (17) and Ben Smart (21) who went missing in the early hours of New Years Day 1998. The pair was last seen, along with a mystery man, boarding a yacht moored in Endeavour Inlet, off Furneaux Lodge. A major police investigation, Operation Tam began on 2 January.
Radio New Zealand’s Lauren McKenzie, reporting from the Picton tip on Thursday 12 March, said police had received information that something relevant to the enquiry may have been dumped there, and this ‘seems to have given tired officers an injection of enthusiasm.’ She said the investigation had been a long, hard slog with few dramatic breakthroughs. “Staff have been away from their families for weeks, working long hours and are tired, and this tip-off has been good for them,” she said.

Police and airforce personnel began searching the tip in response to a report from a member of the public that something relevant to the inquiry may have been dumped there in the past seven to 10 days. Inquiry head Detective Inspector Rob Pope said searchers were not looking for bodies or body parts but would not elaborate. Media reports said police were believed to be looking for something Ben or Olivia might have had with them when they disappeared, but Rob Pope describes this as mere speculation.

(By Saturday 21 March, the media reported police had been looking for human hair snagged by a fisherman from the bed of Tawa Bay in Endeavour Inlet and brought ashore in a plastic bag, which was inadvertently dumped along with other household rubbish in the Picton tip. There were speculative reports that the fisherman thought what he had pulled up was blond human hair).

Fourteen airforce personnel and two detectives wearing white boiler suits, gloves and masks spend 11 and 12 March in foul conditions midst an incredible stink, sifting through 300 cubic metres of wet refuse. They left the tip late on Thursday afternoon with several bags of rubbish to dry and further examine the contents.

Lauren McKenzie, reporting for Checkpoint on 12 March said police had not revealed the source of their information or specified what it was, but she said it seemed to be fresh and not historic and police considered it important. The material was said to have been dumped within the last seven to 10 days. Up to 22 truckloads of household rubbish are du
the media reported police had been looking for human hair snagged by a fisherman from the bed of Tawa Bay in Endeavour Inlet.
mped there each week, but Rob Pope said it was ‘not quite like looking for a needle in a haystack.’

The media reported that police divers had search the seabed at Tawa Bay near Marine Head in Endeavour Inlet on 16 March. Dive boss, Senior Constable Bill Humphries of Wellington said then that the Bay is 46 metres deep in some places.
The sloop seized by police in January was sighted in this area between 9am and 9-45am on New Years Day. Mr Humphries said the search was as a result of information received and that the investigation team was ‘picking odd spots’ because it would be impracticable to search the whole area. He made no mention of recovering material they thought might have been human hair but which turned out to be flax.

Rob Pope, in The Dominion on 20 March said police were still in the process of identifying material recovered from the dump.

“People throughout the inquiry approach us when they think they’ve found something relevant. Often this is found not to be the case,” he said. “We believe we’ve located at the dump, what was described to us, but because of the condition it is in, this cannot be confirmed.” He would not comment on whether the material recovered at the dump was human hair. He said Tawa Bay had been searched the previous week as a result of information provided by the fisherman but it had also been part of the overall dive plan.

However, in an Evening Post report on the same day, Mr Pope is reported as confirming the fisherman had found something that interested him but had inadvertently thrown it out. He said it would be dangerous to say what the fisherman believed he had found or what police had been searching for at the tip. But he said he knew it was rumoured police had searched for hair at the tip and he’d heard all that and “I’ve got no reason not to believe it,” he said.

For more information refer to any of the 20 topics isolated for you by CrimeCo. Sequentially, Success? is recommended.

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Garbage sifted at the Picton tip for evidence

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