Controversial large Mongrel Mob headstones at a North Island town’s council-run cemetery include those for a P-fuelled driver, and a patched-up colleague, who died when the car they were travelling in crashed down a gorge as they travelled to a gang party.
After a review of its Cemeteries Bylaw, the Wairoa District Council is now proposing a change that would ban the future erection of headstones with gang and other “offensive” insignia.
And mayor Craig Little said if he could have his way, he would also have removed the three existing large headstones featuring large Mongrel Mob insignia removed.
The Herald revealed the proposal – which Wairoa locals will soon be able to make submissions on – last month.
Existing headstones featuring large gang symbols at Wairoa Cemetery include those for Ronald Rigby, 53, and Terry Shane Stone, 31; two Mongrel Mobsters who died when the car Rigby was driving crashed more than 125m into the Mohaka River in October 2015.
Fellow gang member Nathan Isaac, 29, also died, while another gang member miraculously survived.
The group were travelling from Wairoa – the North Island town which has been beset with gang problems – to Te Aute for the Mongrel Mob Hastings’ 50th anniversary celebrations.
The triple-fatal crash initially heightened gang tensions in the region.
Another vehicle involved in the incident left the scene, sparking suggestions that the car carrying the Mongrel Mob group had been run off the road by a rival gang.
That suggestion was later refuted after a Coronial inquiry, with Coroner Chris Devonport ruling Rigby had methamphetamine in his system while driving, and had careered off a cliff while trying to stop another car passing him.
Survivor Anthony Atkinson told police after the crash that Rigby had “just lost control and we went over”.
Aside from the large headstones for Rigby and Stone, a third Mongrel Mob-emblazoned memorial is erected at Wairoa Cemetery for Craig Arthur Reid who died in early 2015.
All three headstones are double-sided, something Little says is offensive and also upsetting for the families of other people buried nearby.
“They are pretty big,” Little said. “Are you happy with those beside your loved ones who have passed away?
“The biggest concerns I get are the double-sidedness and if you are looking at your loved ones, you look down at the headstone and it could be assumed that they are part of the Mongrel Mob as well.
“Those are things that we are going to have to tackle. And it is going to be a hard conversation, but that is why you voted on to do these jobs.”
But he said he believed it would be “hard” for the bylaw to be enforced retrospectively.
In an earlier interview with the Herald, Little said people not in the gang saw the symbols as “not being nice”.
“They wouldn’t want their loved ones beside it. That is just the reality when you are a gang member, that is what people see you as,” he said.
“They haven’t got good reputations and I don’t see them doing a lot of good stuff or helping old people and things like that.”
Little said the feedback since the Herald initially revealed the proposed new headstone ban had been “pretty positive”.
Now it was imperative that the council sought feedback from the community; including those for and against the ban.
“It is a pretty touchy subject because people don’t want to be intimidated if they oppose [gang-marked headstones],” he said.
“We have to let people do feedback openly, but in a way that there is going to be no comeback on them. We also want to hear back from the whanau of the gangs involved and any of the gangs. We are not going to exclude anyone from this public consultation.”
Little is also set to meet with leaders from the local Mongrel Mob chapter to talk about the proposed change.
The proposal has already been criticised by Mongrel Mob lifetime member Johnny Nepe Apatu.
“If the mayor is going to segregate he should make sure he is looking at the whole community – the paedophiles, the murderers,” he told Hawke’s Bay Today last month.
“Having an insignia on a headstone is an honour and an acknowledgement, what’s wrong with that? He needs to let the dead rest, they have served their purpose here. Most gang members belong where they are buried, let them rest in peace.”
Other issues open for consultation over a rejigged Cemeteries Bylaw include charging an additional burial fee for anyone from outside the Wairoa district and provisions for natural burials to take place; a process which does not use embalming fluid or caskets and bodies are buried directly into the earth, allowing them to decompose naturally.
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