Mother of slain Constable Matthew Hunt to present petition campaigning for sentencing, parole reform

The mother of slain police officer Matthew Hunt will present a petition to Parliament on Wednesday campaigning for urgent parole and sentencing reform.

Diane Hunt is calling on the House of Representatives to amend the Sentencing Act 2002 and Parole Act 2002 to automatically decline parole eligibility for offenders convicted of the murder of police officers.

Her 28-year-old son, Constable Matthew Hunt, was fatally shot while carrying out a routine traffic stop in West Auckland on June 19. When he approached the vehicle, Eli Epiha, 24, allegedly fired multiple shots at Hunt and his colleague, who was hospitalised with a leg injury. A pedestrian was also hit by the accused's vehicle as he fled the scene.

Epiha has been charged with Matthew's murder, the attempted murder of his colleague, and dangerous driving causing injury. A 30-year-old woman has been charged with accessory after the fact to the murder.

Both Epiha and the woman have denied their charges.

On July 30, the day Matthew would have celebrated his 29th birthday, his mother lodged her petition in Parliament. In New Zealand, offenders found guilty of murder are typically sentenced to life imprisonment. However, under Section 103 of the Sentencing Act, a convicted killer may be eligible for parole after just 10 years behind bars. 

"In memory of killed police officer Constable Matthew Hunt, my beloved son. My son lost his life whilst serving his country. If you truly believe what was said by numerous politicians after Matthew's death that police lives matter, passing this legislation should be done without delay," Hunt's petition states.

"I believe our sentencing laws for murder do not adequately condemn the actions that result in the murder of police officers."

The petition has since amassed more than 39,000 signatures.

Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday morning, Hunt said the last five months without her son have been "awful".

"There's myself, Matthew and my daughter. My daughter lives overseas - she's been with me since this happened, [but] she needs to go back to live her life in India, where she lives. Each day is different and it's very hard to explain. It's awful.

"Matthew was 28 years old. He went to university, he'd just paid his student loan off. He did everything right. He had a good job, he wanted a career. He'd set everything in motion for himself to have an interesting, full life - cut short, for nothing. I could either have just accepted that, or I chose to start this petition - 39,286 people agree with me, so today I'll present it to Parliament and we'll see where it goes from there."

Constable Matthew Hunt.
Constable Matthew Hunt. Photo credit: File

On Tuesday, a man shot a police dog in the small Northland township of Tangowahine, critically injuring the animal. Officers returned fire and the man is currently in hospital.

Hunt says yesterday's incident is yet another example of violence against New Zealand Police - an issue she says is deeply ingrained in our country. 

"This is part of New Zealand today," she said. "Another example of an offender with a weapon - it's happening all the time. The police officer in Northland, attending a burglary, and two people feel they had the right to assassinate her, almost. A police car in Manurewa, shot at multiple times. 

"Our police officers go about their business unarmed - and some people think that's okay. The offenders have weapons - police are expected to attend these events unarmed. It's a big ask… sentencing is very soft. Ten years for murder isn't working."

The 28-year-old was described by friends, family and colleagues as a kind-hearted, empathetic and caring man who loved his job, remembered for his humility, humour and hardworking nature.

"Matthew was a very modest person. He was only 28 and he hadn't grown into himself, but we saw him and knew what he could accomplish," Hunt said.

"He had full respect and love for his police colleagues and I know that if this had happened to one of them, he'd be right there doing everything he could for them."

Matthew Hunt is the 33rd police officer to be killed by a criminal act in the line of duty since the record began. In September, he was honoured at a Police Remembrance Day service, days after a memorial plaque was unveiled at the Royal New Zealand Police College. 

The trial for Epiha and his alleged accomplice is due to proceed in July 2021.