Man who killed partner Gaelene Bright ‘execution-style’ given life in prison

Gaelene Bright, 69, is described as a caring and loving mother, grandmother and artist. (File photo)

NZ Police/Supplied

Gaelene Bright, 69, is described as a caring and loving mother, grandmother and artist. (File photo)

A Northland man who admitted murdering his partner Gaelene Bright​ – a loving grandmother – has been sentenced to life in prison.

Bright, 69, was a mother of five and nana to six, described as caring, kind and honest.

Her disappearance in May, 2022 sparked an extensive police search until her body was found in Waipoua Forest, near Tāne Mahuta, on May 17, 2022.

Raymond Charles Phillimore​, 66, initially denied the charges of murdering Bright and unlawfully possessing a .22 but admitted both a year later.

But in the High Court in Whangārei on Thursday, Justice Peter Andrew said it was a “heartless and wholly inexcusable crime”, despite the guilty pleas.

Phillimore was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum period of imprisonment of 13 years.

Raymond Phillimore, centre back, was sentenced in the High Court in Whangārei for the murder of Gaelene Bright, represented by lawyer Leo Lafferty, front.

Denise Piper/Stuff

Raymond Phillimore, centre back, was sentenced in the High Court in Whangārei for the murder of Gaelene Bright, represented by lawyer Leo Lafferty, front.

The court heard how Bright and Phillimore lived together in a remote property at Waimamamaku, near Waipoua Forest, described as a “hippy” Hokianga site.

But their three-year relationship started to sour, particularly after Phillimore attended the Parliament protest in Wellington early in 2022. Bright’s family said she was trying to leave him.

He admitted killing Bright with three potentially fatal shots – two to the head and one to the chest.

“It was, as the Crown has submitted, an execution-style murder,” Justice Andrew said.

Phillimore disposed of Bright’s body in the forest, later moving it further from the road and covering it with leaves and twigs.

He then lit a fire to dispose of pieces of evidence and left the scene, heading to Napier, where he was picked up by police, naked on the foreshore.

Gaelene Bright volunteered and exhibited art at Kohukohu Village Arts Gallery, pictured, and was active in the village before moving to Waimamaku. (File photo)

Google Maps/Supplied

Gaelene Bright volunteered and exhibited art at Kohukohu Village Arts Gallery, pictured, and was active in the village before moving to Waimamaku. (File photo)

The sentencing was attended to by about 30 of Bright’s friends and family, nine of whom read out their emotionally charged victim impact statements.

About 40 minutes into the proceedings, Phillimore collapsed and was allowed to take a seat before the court continued.

Bright’s family described her as full of love for everyone, including Phillimore.

Her daughter, Luella Bright, said her mother provided for Phillimore financially, yet he took her life.

“She had selflessly given you her love, given you a home, supported you financially… nursed you when you were sick,” she said to Phillimore.

Gaelene Bright’s body was dumped at Waipoua Forest, near Tāne Mahuta, and covered with leaves and twigs. (File photo)

Jason Dorday/Stuff

Gaelene Bright’s body was dumped at Waipoua Forest, near Tāne Mahuta, and covered with leaves and twigs. (File photo)

“She would often leave her dying sister’s bedside to come home and make sure you were OK.

“When you realised you couldn’t hold onto her any more, instead of letting her go you took her from all of us,” Luella Bright said.

“You took the life of a beautiful woman who only ever gave love to those around her.”

Victims also explained how their anguish was added to by having to search for Bright’s body and the fact they were unable to see her remains when she was found.

Phillimore’s earlier not guilty pleas also meant they did not get the full answers about her death and feared having to go through a trial.

Phillimore’s lawyer Leo Lafferty said his client acknowledged the “severe hurt” he had caused and he had written a letter expressing his remorse.

But Justice Andrew said the letter had come “rather late in the piece” and he acknowledged the heartache and grief expressed by Bright’s family.

“She was obviously a bright light; a woman described as having special energy.”

Andrew said Phillimore made the death worse by failing to call emergency services, abandoning the body in the forest, burning the items involved and fleeing the scene.

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