An opportunist thief escaped empty-handed and with a thick ear after members of the public intervened in an attempt to snatch a bag from a woman in a suburban Napier shopping centre on Saturday.

Witnesses said the woman was sitting on seats in the Marewa Village shopping centre facing Kennedy Rd soon after 8am when the thief rode up on a bicycle and grabbed the bag from the woman and tried to ride off.

Hero of the hour was father-of-two and forestry worker Trevor Donoghue who, according to flatmate and witness John Manning waiting in a parked car, was at an ATM when the woman yelled for help.

Mr Manning said Mr Donoghue, who was unable to be contacted yesterday by Hawke's Bay Today, tackled the thief.

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"There was a bit of a scrap, they were wrestling and he managed to get the bag back," he said.

However, the thief broke loose and fled, leaving behind the bicycle which he had been riding from the post office eastern end of the shopping centre, which was deserted apart from Mr Donoghue and Mr Manning, the victim and the thief, and a man and a woman estimated to be aged 50 to 60.

The offender, wearing a grey-and-white checked hoodie and a baseball cap and thought to be a male Maori in his late teens or early 20s, did not appear to be injured as he fled the way he had been heading, to the south and out of sight into Nuffield Ave.

"My mate wasn't injured," Mr Manning said. "But he did have a bit of a sore hand, from when he gave a couple of smacks in the head."

Police were called while the woman was comforted in a nearby cafe.

Yesterday, Senior Sergeant David Sutherland of the police Eastern District command centre said no one had been arrested and police were still seeking the offender.