A senior Mongrel Mob member died in a suspected suicide just a week after having cars and property seized by police and as he was expecting to face serious drug charges.
By some accounts, John Joseph Morrell was a loving husband and father of five, a valued member of his community and respected for taking care of friends.
He was also allegedly involved in dealing methamphetamine: a drug that destroys lives, tears families apart and causes untold harm in his community and others.
Morrell, 34, was the Mongrel Mob leader buried at a huge tangi in Hastings last month, but has not been identified until now due to an interim non-publication order imposed by a coroner at his family’s request.
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Morrell, who was known as “Triple J”, died in a suspected suicide at his Flaxmere home on May 21. His death is the subject of an inquiry by coroner Mark Wilton.
His death occurred a week after police seized numerous assets and made six arrests in the culmination of an 18-month investigation into organised crime, named ”Operation Dusk”.
Police seized $2 million in assets, including a 2020 Range Rover, high-end classic cars, two trucks, four Harley-Davidson motorbikes, jewellery, a boat, and two jet skis.
They also recovered 14 firearms including military-style semi-automatic weapons and pistols, ammunition, illicit drugs including methamphetamine, cannabis and synthetics, and large quantities of cash.
Morrell was not one of the six people arrested initially, but a memorandum submitted to the coroner on behalf of Morrell’s family seeking to keep his name secret, revealed that five properties associated with Morrell were seized by police, as well as cars, and bank accounts.
While he had not been charged at the time of his death, the memorandum showed his lawyer “anticipated … that criminal charges relating to the supply of methamphetamine would follow in due course”.
Morrell could not be named until now as his family applied for an interim non-publication order from the coroner.
The coroner made the interim order and invited submissions from Stuff, which opposed the continuation of the order.
Coroner Wilton said “I form a view that Mr Morrell’s death and his association to the Mongrel Mob gang are matters readily known and in the public arena”.
Morrell’s tangi was held at the kura kaupapa attended by his children and attracted about 1200 gang members and supporters.
It was submitted on behalf of the Morrell whānau that they should be able to grieve for Morrell and that the children would be exposed to media coverage that could impact on their wellbeing. They also asked that if a non-publication order was not made, then there should be an order suppressing any reference or link to Operation Dusk.
The coroner said if an order for non-publication could be justified solely on the basis of grief or general concern about the impacts of publication then “virtually every death in the Coroners Court would be the subject of such orders”.
“This is contrary to the well-established legal principles of open justice,” the coroner said.
He said more than two weeks had passed since Morrell’s death, meaning there had been enough time for family to address his death with the children.
He decided the interim non-publication orders would lapse within seven days of his decision; at 5pm on June 11, and said the family had the right to appeal this decision to the High Court.
Morrell’s tangi involved hundreds of vehicles and motorbikes travelling from the Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Ngati Kahungunu ki Heretaunga to an urupa at Te Hauke, south of Hastings.
The procession occupied both lanes of State Highway 2, causing delays to motorists.
Several gang members were later arrested for their behaviour.
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