Santas fight and steal in the streets

By Stephen Cook, Vaneesa Bellew

A gang of drunken "Santas" caused merry hell across central Auckland yesterday, robbing stores, tagging buildings and assaulting security guards.

Three men were arrested on a variety of drunk and disorderly charges, and two security guards had to be treated for cuts after being hit with beer bottles.

The group of 40 men - mostly in their mid-20s and dressed in ill-fitting Santa costumes - began their "Santarchy" shortly after 2pm. First stop was the Victoria St motorway overbridge where they smashed beer bottles and urinated.

They moved through Victoria Park kicking over rubbish bins, throwing bottles at cars and leaping in front of vehicles. One also tagged the Victoria St NZ Post building. Then they headed to the Sky City Casino where several vandalised the giant Christmas tree in the foyer.

Some made their way to the Victoria St Star Mart where they took several items from the shelves. Then it was through Queen St, High St and down to Britomart where security guards said they were yelling, swearing and "causing mayhem".

One ripped a window wiper off a bus while others harangued security guards and waiting passengers.

At the Princes Wharf Viaduct, one managed to scale a mooring line on the cruise ship Pacific Sky before being ordered by the captain to get down. When he retreated he was collared by two port security guards and later arrested.

This sparked angry scenes among the other "Santas" who started throwing bottles at security guards. One was struck in the head with a flying bottle and another was punched in the face. Both were treated by ambulance staff.

Police arrested three of the men, and told others to leave the area, but around 20 went into the Princes St Star Mart and helped themselves to soft drinks and beer.

The event's organiser, Alex Dyer, warned of trouble earlier in the day, saying the antics would only be stopped when someone was arrested. Santarchy, he said, was a worldwide phenomenon designed to dismantle the commercialisation of Christmas. Senior Sergeant Matt Rogers said the men were more like clowns than Santas.

Though he did not want to play down the seriousness of their actions, it was "fairly average behaviour" from "an organised group of idiots" who had had too much to drink. Police had received no warning about the event, despite press reports earlier in the week.

Changa Manakynda of the Princes Wharf Star Mart said the ordeal had been very distressing. "They came in, said 'Merry Christmas' and then helped themselves."

- HERALD ON SUNDAY

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