23 May 2023

New Plymouth dairy owner feared death as armed teens ransacked his store

7:09 am on 23 May 2023
Robert Lee of the Windmill Dairy in Vogeltown.

Robert Lee has owned the Windmill Dairy in Vogeltown for about 11 years. Photo: Robin Martin / RNZ

The owner of a New Plymouth dairy feared for his life when three young people - one armed with a knife and another, a hammer - stormed his business at the weekend.

It was the second brazen robbery in the city this month, something the mayor said was indicative of a deeper problem sweeping the nation.

Robert Lee has owned the Windmill Dairy in Vogeltown for about 11 years. He said the attackers struck at about 7.40pm on Saturday.

"Three people just run into my shop. One just jump onto the counter and take away the cash drawer, and the second, in his hand was a knife. He was yelling to me, I feel very scared. The third person, in his hand was a hammer."

Lee was no stranger to robberies - this was the fourth he had suffered in as many years - but this was the first time he feared for his life.

"Because I see a knife on his hand. I feel so scared. I feel maybe I will … die in this shop.

"I do business for more than 11 years but it's the first time maybe I will die."

Lee said the robbers appeared to be teenagers who did not fear repercussions for their actions.

"Policemen need to do more things, the government needs to give us more help."

Second robbery this month

The Windmill Dairy robbery followed a lunchtime smash and grab on a Michael Hill Jewellery store in the city earlier this month.

Auckland police arrested three teens aged 14, 15, and 16, believed to be responsible for that raid and a series of aggravated robberies.

Pratik Patel owns a minimart up the road from the Windmill Dairy. An armed teenager robbed his business in August.

"One 15-year-old, he pull out the knife and show to my staff and ask her to put out the money, and that's exactly - that's what she's done, but she's still in that trauma, you know? She can't feel better."

Patel said his staff were permanently on edge.

"This is [terrifying]. Like, every day it feels like, okay, who is coming in the shop? We can't judge them."

The moment a robber jumped onto the counter at New Plymouth's Windmill Dairy.

The moment a robber jumped onto the counter at New Plymouth's Windmill Dairy. Photo: Supplied

Government-funded bollards and a roller door had recently been installed at his store. He said they were welcome, but offered little comfort.

"When they come, four or five people to rob the shop, we're not going to stop them anyhow."

He echoed concerns the offenders did not fear any consequences.

"They know they're not getting any offences, like, they're not getting any punishment, hard punishments or anything. So, they're just doing it for gangs or anything, I don't know."

'Out of circulation'

New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom said the recent robberies were indicative of a wider problem.

"It's a real challenge that New Zealand's grappling with because we've obviously seen this issue of professional criminals coming in from Australia through this 501 process.

"And they've really upped the game in terms of, you know, they're organising youths, many of who are exempt from kind of, traditional tools we have in the corrections system."

He said the public could help.

"The best thing that we can do as a community is keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour and support the police to catch these people. And realistically we want to get these people out of circulation because they are threatening good people, good businesspeople, and it is very challenging for them in this environment because people are scared at work."

Taranaki Area Commander Inspector Darin Haenga said police appreciated the distress that aggravated robberies and ram raids caused retailers and the community.

"Police are responding to these incidents at a district and national level with significant investigative action to identify those responsible and prevent revictimisation."

Haenga said police were supporting retailers to feel safe and be safe.

"This includes engaging with retailers and providing prevention advice such as how to keep themselves safe as well as key tips on store layout, window coverings, and crime prevention products."

The National Retail Investigation Support Unit also collaborated with retailers on prevention advice, and worked with local police to ensure officers were deployed to the right locations at the right times to deter offending.

Crime prevention advice included setting up businesses so staff could see who was coming in or out, setting up the cash register so it was close to the door and setting up a room that could be used as a safe zone, and keeping the float to a limited amount.

More prevention advice was available on the police website.

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