South East Wales

John and Leigh Ann Sabine investigated for abandoning children

John Sabine and Leigh Ann Sabine Image copyright Handout

A couple at the centre of a murder investigation in Rhondda Cynon Taff were previously investigated by police in New Zealand for abandoning their five children in the 1960s.

The skeletal remains of John Sabine were found wrapped in plastic in a garden in Trem-Y-Cwm, Beddau, in November.

Police believe he was murdered by his wife Leigh Ann, who died in October.

DNA confirmed his identity and his injuries were consistent with assault.

Mr Sabine had not been seen for 18 years, but remained on the electoral register at the flats where his remains were found.

TV New Zealand's One News have reported details about the complex family history of the Sabines in New Zealand and Australia.

The state broadcaster said the couple abandoned their children, then aged between two and 11, in a nursery in Auckland in 1969, selling their home and moving to Australia where they changed their identity.

Image copyright TVNZ
Image caption The Sabines abandoned their five children in the 1960s

For more than a decade their children were brought up in care.

Yet the Sabines were reported to have started a new life in Sydney, where Mrs Sabine tried to build a career as a singer.

But a scandal erupted when the Sabines returned to New Zealand and in 1984, in an apparent change of heart, made contact with their children.

The plan backfired when their daughters Jane and Lee-Ann reported them to the authorities and tipped off the local media.

By then, Mr and Mrs Sabine were calling themselves John and Lee Martin. They hit the headlines as the "child dumping" couple who had "sneaked" back into the country with new identities.

As their notoriety grew, the New Zealand minister for social welfare ordered an investigation but the Sabines escaped prosecution.

Image copyright TVNZ

There were also claims that the couple had returned to New Zealand as early as 1972 and had been living incognito in the town of Titirangi.

Former journalist Genevieve Westcott, who investigated the Sabines for TV New Zealand in the 1980s, has reacted to the news of the murder investigation in South Wales.

Ms Westcott said she "wasn't surprised". She said that when she confronted the couple in 1984 they had denied being the parents of their children.

After months of media attention, it is thought the couple left New Zealand in late 1984, selling up once again and moving to Britain.

On Friday, South Wales Police said Mrs Sabine, who died from cancer aged 74, was the main suspect in the murder investigation.

Officers are also investigating the financial activities of the couple, police added.

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