Masked burglars steal phones worth thousands

By Genevieve Helliwell

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Dawn burglars in balaclavas and hoods have stolen thousands of dollars worth of smartphones from the Vodafone store in Bayfair Shopping Centre.

Police are today hunting three brazen thieves who entered the shopping centre via the second storey entrance about 6am yesterday, ran down the travelator, broke into the Vodafone store, stole mobile phones and other electrical goods, and fled in a waiting vehicle.

Police have reviewed CCTV footage and are seeking information on a blue Nissan Primera, licence plate EHQ806, seen in the Bayfair area around the time of the smash and grab.

Vodafone refused to be drawn on whether the phones had been stolen to order, but admitted the robbers appeared to have headed straight for the Vodafone shop and made quick work of their spree.

Acting Bayfair centre manager Steve Ellingford said: "They were wearing balaclava and hoods and they broke through the second-level entry of the multi-story car park [at the top of the travelator], broke into the Vodafone store and removed some stock. They tried to break into one other tenancy but were unsuccessful then left."

Tauranga police confirmed the second store targeted was Sunglass Hutt. Acting Senior Sergeant of Mount Maunganui police, Paul Cade, said it appeared the offenders forced the Sunglass Hutt door open but did not go inside.

Mr Ellingford said staff at the shopping centre overheard noises coming from that area of the shopping centre but, within moments, the thieves had made their way back up the travelator and out the second-level entry and into a waiting vehicle.

The shopping centre was closed at the time. The Bayfair website said doors open to the public at 9am.

"They were only on site for minutes, it was very quick," Mr Ellingford said.

Mount Maunganui police viewed the CCTV footage yesterday and Mr Cade said the burglars were wearing "hooded sweatshirts with their hoods pulled up".

Mr Cade said the Nissan Primera was seen at the time of the burglary and police were interested in speaking to anyone who saw the vehicle in that area early yesterday.

A staff member at the Vodafone store at Bayfair said the offenders had broken in through the "plastic and metal" door at the front of the shop.

Vodafone head of company communications, Sarah Newcombe, said "a significant amount" of stock was stolen. She said the stolen products were mobile phones of a variety of brands, including iPhones, android phones, windows devices and more.

"The phones that were stolen were right across the board. It didn't appear they were targeting one type of phone ... But they came into the mall and they weren't in there very long so they certainly knew what they were after."

Mrs Newcombe said staff were "still assessing the size of the loss".

"However the mobile phones have all been blacklisted which means they will not work on any of the mobile networks in New Zealand," she said.

"So, if you're offered a cheap phone, beware. If it's stolen stock not only could you be up for receiving stolen goods, but the phone won't work either," she said.

Mr Ellingford said he was disappointed with the burglary. "From here we'll look at our security and we'll look at what we can do better," he said.

Bayfair Shopping Centre is fitted with security cameras and security guards monitor the complex 24 hours a day.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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