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February 2009
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Award recognises courage

Constable John Cunningham has been awarded a Commissioner’s Commendation for the courage and professionalism he displayed in the Sophie Elliott murder case.

On 9 January 2008, John was the nearest officer available to respond to the call to Sophie’s Dunedin home.

Upon arriving at the scene, John learnt from Sophie’s distraught mother that she had forced her way into her daughter’s bedroom and seen the offender repeatedly stabbing Sophie.

Constable John Cunningham

Photo: Senior Constable Craig McKersey, Dunedin Police Forensic Imaging Unit

John went to the room and called for the door to be unlocked. He then entered the room and found the offender standing calmly near the victim’s feet. Sophie had been stabbed a total of 216 times.

“My main focus was to apprehend the offender and preserve the crime scene and evidence. It was crucial to keep the scene as controlled as possible,” says John.

The award recognises the professionalism and courage John showed when faced with a difficult and dangerous situation. He was, however, rather reluctant to accept it. “I am very grateful for the award, but any police officer in my position would have done the same thing.”


John says his experience and police training have given him the skills he needs to deal with the situations he faces on a day-to-day basis.

He also credits his mentors at Dunedin station who have given him the opportunities to up-skill and expand his horizons. “They are a bunch of really good guys who have a wealth of knowledge,” says John.

Policing is in the blood for John as his father Gus Cunningham served as a police officer in Invercargill. This inspired him to take up the role and he has now served for over five years.

John is currently completing his Sergeants papers and wants to stay in frontline policing where his current interests lie.

“What I like about frontline policing is that it’s unpredictable. I never know what I’m going to get and each day brings a new challenge which adds to my personal growth and professional development,” he says.

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