A corpse-trained police dog failed to detect Dale Watene’s body at the site where he was buried, a court heard this morning.

However, the debris found at the site was enough for police to further investigate the scene.

The trial of two people accused of involvement in the murder of Mr Watene began before Judge Gerald Nation at Invercargill High Court on June 13.

Sandy Maree Graham (32) is charged with her murder in Otautau on April 16, 2020.

George Ivor Hyde (24) is charged with complicity after the fact for murder in Otautau between April 16 and April 27, 2020.

Mr Watene’s body was found buried in a shallow grave in Longwood Forest near Otautau on May 18, 2020.

At the start of the trial, Graham’s defense lawyer, Sarah Saunderson-Warner, said Mr Watene was shot at Graham’s home, but it was not done on purpose or with murderous intent.

Through defense barrister Fiona Guy Kidd QC, Hyde also admitted he had disposed of the body, but said he did not know Mr Watene had been murdered.

Yesterday Detective Dougall Henderson said after first discovering the site on May 1, volunteer searchers alerted police to the same area on May 16, 2020, saying the ground at the site was soft.

However, a police dog trained on a corpse did not detect a body, he said.

Knowing that Hyde had bricks, mortar and roof flashing on his property, police decided to return to the site a third time to investigate further on May 18, 2020.

Police cleared the debris from the top of the site which was about 2m long and 1.62m wide, placed it on a clean tarp and removed some topsoil.

Continuing his testimony today, Detective Henderson said at 2.14pm on May 18, less than 30cm below the surface, Detective Sergeant Dave Kennelly unearthed what appeared to be a bare human foot.

A shovel was then replaced by a trowel to scrape more soil.

“We gently removed enough soil and clay around the foot to ensure that what we located was indeed a foot and not an animal part,” Det Henderson said.

At that time, a clear plastic trash can was placed on the foot and steps were taken to preserve the scene, photographs were taken, he said.

Police were stationed 24 hours a day at the site to ensure the scene was not contaminated.

A full forensic examination of the grave was then carried out two days later, on May 20, and the body was exhumed.

Detective Matthew Wyatt, officer in charge of the body, said Mr Watene’s body was placed on a stretcher and placed in the back of a police SUV.

He and another officer walked alongside the 4×4 to secure the stretcher, until they reached the intersection where Mr Watene’s body could be transferred to another vehicle.

Iwi Police personnel then performed a Maori blessing, before the body was taken to a funeral home where it was kept safe before being transferred to Christchurch morgue.

The trial continues this afternoon.

Karen Pasco, PIJF Court Reporter

[email protected]

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