21 Sep 2023

Relative of victim of gang violence hits out at politicians in meeting

From Checkpoint, 5:29 pm on 21 September 2023
National MP Scott Simpson speaking to Coromandel residents on 21 September 2023.

National MP Scott Simpson Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

A relative of a man badly beaten by a dozen gang members in Coromandel says he sees gang activity "all the time" and does not think anything is going to change.

It comes as videos on social media show patched Rebels gang members circling a man as he lay on the ground, beating him and kicking him in the face.

Following a community outcry, National MPs called a meeting in the Coromandel Citizen's Hall on Wednesday night, which was also attended by local leaders and about 70 residents.

But the meeting did not leave everyone satisfied the problem would be solved.

National Party police spokesperson Mark Mitchell talks to Coromandel residents on 21 September 2023.

National Party police spokesperson Mark Mitchell. Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

National Party police spokesperson Mark Mitchell said it was heartbreaking to see the fear on people's faces.

"You could hear the stress and anxiety, the anger, the people wanting to get into vigilante-type actions," he said.

"It's really important that you had the community leaders here, the local mayor, that we were actually here to listen to them, to try and provide some reassurance."

Mitchell said National would not allow gang members to wear patches in public.

Patches were already prohibited in government buildings and schools.

Other solutions proposed included reducing the discretion of judges to discount sentences, a policy National had already announced.

However, the relative of one of the assault victims said the meeting left him with no sense of a plan going forward.

"If they're saying they're coming back, who knows what could happen? These fellas [police or community leaders] won't be ready for it."

He said there was a possibility of retribution for the attack.

"They got family, and if those gangs come back, they're going to have a full-on war in this town, bro."

He said he saw gang members in town "all the time" and expected that to continue.

"Nothing's going to be done. This fella in here [Mitchell] is talking about how he's going to change the world. He's not going to change nothing. Labour said the same thing."

Mary Farmer

Mary Farmer Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

Mary Farmer was driving back from a dog walk when she came across the man being beaten on the side of the main road into town, Tiki Rd.

She rang the police, and when the attackers left, she and another lady hurried to help him.

"He was obviously concussed; he was in cuckoo land."

As the gang members took off on motorbikes and in other vehicles, they threatened the man still lying dazed on the ground.

"While we were helping him, the bikes came through from town towards Thames - out of town - and gave him the gun sign, like 'Got you', and 'We see you': fingers to the eyes and to you and a gun...

"It was scary."

Thames Hospital

Thames Hospital Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

This man was one of three people police said were taken to Thames Hospital with various injuries.

But when Checkpoint contacted the hospital, staff said none of the three had been admitted.

The incident Farmer came across happened in broad daylight, around lunchtime on Sunday.

Police knew of about 12 gang members travelling across the Coromandel Peninsula over the weekend.

Coromandel town

Coromandel town Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

Sunday was not the first time Coromandel locals had felt threatened.

Some hospitality and accommodation providers said they were at their wits' end with gang members coming into town, breaking road rules without any repercussions, and being generally intimidating.

Several told Checkpoint they did not allow gang members on their premises.

And with the town's police station often unmanned, people were worried about what would happen if the gangs came back.

"What protection will we get if 200 of these motorbikes arrive next weekend?" one man asked.

"They said they're coming back."

Thames-Coromandel mayor Len Salt

Thames-Coromandel mayor Len Salt Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

Thames-Coromandel mayor Len Salt suggested cameras could be used more for surveillance of gang activity.

But he stopped short of endorsing roadblocks in and out of town.

"We're not a police state," he said.

"If we cross a line and start putting up roadblocks on the weekends, we need to be asking ourselves a really hard question: is that the kind of town and community that we want to live in?"

On Wednesday, a chapter president of the Rebels called local radio station CFM to apologise for the attack.

The station shared this message with Checkpoint:

"To the Coromandel community, on behalf of the Rebels northwest chapter, I would like to address the events that happened on Sunday, 17 September," he said.

"First and foremost, I would like to formally apologise personally, on behalf of the Rebels northwest chapter."

Some community members said that the apology was not good enough.

"You're saying an apology from the president for kicking someone in the head from one of his patched members is acceptable?" one man asked.

A resounding "no" sounded around the hall.

Kennedy Bay, Coromandel Peninsula

 Kennedy Bay. Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

Locals said the Rebels gang was not based in town but was known to the community and thought to have a pad out at Kennedy Bay.

Checkpoint drove over the hill and across the peninsula to this small settlement about 30 minutes northeast of Coromandel Township.

Along the way, a road worker said he knew of a house the Rebels used.

A Kennedy Bay resident confirmed she had seen them riding around on their motorbikes, but said they generally kept to themselves.

Coromandel Police Station

Coromandel Police Station Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

Waikato East area commander inspector Michael Henwood said police were investigating the weekend's altercation and considering individual charges.

"Coromandel Police have no tolerance for the events that happened on Tiki Rd on Sunday afternoon," he said.

Henwood was confident the group involved was no longer in the area and said police had not received any further reports of gang-related activity involving this group.

Police had a rolling roster to provide 24/7 coverage across the Coromandel Peninsula and had increased their patrols around the township.

Henwood said distance could be a challenge for police in remote communities but said they had robust risk assessment and deployment.

"We will continue to target any offending by gang members and work to prevent and disrupt any incidents as reported to us."

But he said police could not be everywhere at once and relied on the public to report offending.