The final stage in the official search for Whangateau pensioner Maree Wilkins, who has been missing from a Leigh Road rest home since Tuesday evening, November 7, will focus on Whangateau Harbour.
At a public meeting at the Rams Clubrooms in Whangateau last night, Warkworth officer-in-charge Sgt Scott Sherer said that although the search was now a recovery operation, the police Eagle helicopter would continue, when available, to do sweeps of the harbour at low tide this week.
Sgt Sherer said there was no evidence to support the idea that Ms Wilkins had left the area and although police couldn’t rule out foul play, they felt this was unlikely.
About 35 residents attended the meeting and expressed concern at the way the search had been conducted, particularly the lack of publicity when Ms Wilkins was first discovered to be missing.
Several people felt that had the missing person been a child, “it would have been all over the media”. As it was, even people in Warkworth were unaware of Ms Wilkins’ disappearance.
Sgt Sherer agreed that there were lessons to be learned, particularly in terms of how messages were communicated to the immediate community.
He said police put out media releases and posted on social media, but they couldn’t dictate what news organisations chose to publish or broadcast.
Commenting on a proposal to set-up a community search, Sgt Sherer recommended that it did not happen.
“The search has been conduct by highly trained professionals and will be subject to a police audit. I can’t support a community search which could put other peoples lives at risk.”
A general discussion on how the community could have been better informed covered the importance of residents belonging to neighbourhood support and civil defence groups, where alerts could be circulated quickly. Sgt Sherer also supported the idea of handing out flyers, given that not everyone was connected online.