The day our lives changed for ever

By Rosaleen Macbrayne

Looking through glass doors to see her husband, Peter, being beaten by two hooded men chilled Maggie Bentley.

He had left their remote rural house, a 30-minute drive from Rotorua, to go to work early on the Saturday morning of last Labour Weekend. She had lingered in bed listening to the tui, the bellbirds and the rooster heralding the new day, and had just got up when she heard yelling about 6am.

"I stared in disbelief for a second. I wanted to run to him, and then thoughts of Beverly Bouma came to mind," Mrs Bentley said when she read her victim impact statement to a hushed Rotorua District Court.

Beverly Bouma was murdered in a home invasion by four men at her Reporoa farm in 1998.

"I desperately wanted to go to my husband's aid but I knew I would only make matters worse for him if I did. So I ran the other way."

Mrs Bentley grabbed a cordless phone they had got two days before. Their old one was stolen in a burglary a few weeks earlier.

"I yelled to my nephew upstairs. I heard crashing of glass behind me and glanced back to see my husband being driven through the closed french doors into the lounge. I saw a flaying of a crowbar, sending shattered glass and splinters of wood everywhere," she said, her voice faltering.

Behind her, handcuffed and flanked by prison guards, Mano Tamati sat with head bowed. His fellow offender, Hopihana Epiha, watched intently.

"I ran to the garden dialling 111 and stood behind a bush only four metres from my front door," said Mrs Bentley, clasping her husband's hand tightly as he stood by her.

"The yelling continued and then the noise of a gun going off. I was filled with dread as I did not know if my beloved Peter was dead or alive."

Eventually, she heard the intruders leave and found her badly injured husband. Until Labour Weekend, the couple's farm block, which is mainly native bush and where they raise dexter cattle, was a haven for them, their family and friends - "a place where we could all feel safe, have fun and unwind away from city noises and stresses".

"Our peace, our home, our life was invaded; it was treated with disrespect. There was shouting, bad language, hate, guns, damage to our house and general chaos. All those things are now part of our home and they have no right to be there.

"There are memories of that morning everywhere: By the gate where I saw a hooded man standing with a gun, by the scars that cannot be repaired on doors and furniture, by the driveway where I had to run down to meet the police and saw our laundry scattered, by the kitchen where I have memories of a pool of blood that was my husband's, and, most important, by the deck where I found my husband battered and bleeding but thankfully still alive."

She said they nearly walked away from the home they had worked so hard to establish. Upset family members seldom visited now and their lives centred on alarms and locked doors.

"I feel I have more keys to the property than a jailer does ... Our lives have been totally changed."

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