Armed robbers terrify couple

By Mike Dinsdale

A terrified Whangarei couple had to watch as armed robbers raided their shop while one of the men held a metre-long machete and their 9-year-old son looked on.

Police are appealing for public help after a spate of armed robberies in recent weeks including the robbery of the Korna Store, in Morningside Rd, at 5.30pm on Sunday.

It came after armed robberies at Ngawha Hot Springs on April 29, Kamo Hotel on May 8, Poroti Tavern and Dargaville's Hilltop Dairy on May 29, and Otangarei's Jack St Superette was robbed at gunpoint on June 14. There was an attempted robbery of another Whangarei dairy on Sunday. Two men have been arrested in relation to the Ngawha robbery, but the rest remain unsolved.

Police do not believe the robberies are linked, but their number is worrying, said Detective Sergeant John Miller of Whangarei police.

Three thieves, all covering their faces, entered the Korna Store when owners Rajesh and Hetal Mistry were out after their son had stepped into the back of the store.

Mr Mistry said one of the men was carrying a machete with a blade about a metre long and he slammed it onto the counter to attract his wife's attention.

Mrs Mistry retreated to the back of the store while Mr Mistry, who was filling shelves, came to the front only to have the man point the machete at him and shout at him to sit down.

"I wasn't expecting it. People told us that Whangarei was safe and this area was a good area. This is the first time this has happened," Mr Mistry said. The family moved up from Auckland two years ago.

"He told me to sit down so I did. One of them jumped over the counter and started getting the money [from the till] while the other ran round the back to get at the cigarettes ... it was very scary."

The couple's young son saw the drama unfold from the back of the store and the experience had been traumatic.

"There were no customers in at the time so that was lucky. Five minutes before they came my son was standing at the counter ... if they'd been five minutes earlier it would have been him," Mr Mistry said.

The frightening robbery, which lasted only a minute, was captured on the store's CCTV and police were reviewing the tape.

Mr Miller said a green Mazda sedan was seen leaving the dairy about that time with four men in and he appealed for anybody who may have information on the robbery, or who had seen the Mazda, to get in touch with police.

Earlier on Sunday the owner of Patel Foodmarket, on Mill Rd, thwarted what may have been an attempted robbery after he turned up at 8am and noticed a balaclava-clad man nearby.

The shop owner quickly went into the store and locked the door behind him, watching the man on CCTV before calling the police.

The man was also wearing gloves and carrying a hockey stick, which he used to smash one of the CCTV cameras before running off before police arrived.

Mr Miller said the spate of armed robberies was a concern as the victims did what they were asked by the robbers, but such situations meant they could quickly escalate into tragedy.

"The robberies have been by different people with different weapons used so we are treating them as separate cases, at this stage," Mr Miller said.

"These robberies have the potential to get out of control pretty quickly. Thank goodness the people concerned have done as they were told and nobody has been hurt, but they are a recipe for more serious harm."

Anybody with information on the robberies, or any other crimes, can ring anonymously, and for free to Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

- Northern Advocate

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