A violent gang turned a city council hall into its headquarters, while also using it as a base to recruit new members.
The Killer Bees gang has now been locked out of the Sandbrook Reserve Hall in South Auckland, but not before it ran organised turf wars there and cemented its position in the community.
It has emerged that the gang could have occupied the former Scout hall in Otara for as long as 3 1/2 years - Manukau City Council was oblivious to its presence until 30 police armed with batons and semi-automatic rifles broke up an organised brawl there last month.
The council has described losing track of a hall and allowing it to become a gang headquarters as an "embarrassment".
Ian Maxwell, director of community services, confirmed the community hall had been used for gang recruitment. "It was completely inappropriate. We have taken control of the building. I'm recommending the building be demolished. If we had known we would have closed them down."
Yet the concession came in the same week the council was forced to admit it had allowed the Otara Leisure Centre to be booked out for a huge gang fight later this month.
Maxwell: "Our people didn't really put two and two together until later. I've made a judgement call, given the discussions I've had. We should have our eyes and ears ready to pick up these sorts of things."
Sandbrook Reserve Hall was passed from the Scouting Association of New Zealand to the South Auckland Boxing Club, a body that is not registered and does not formally exist.
In September 2004, local MP Ross Robertson, Allan Va'a, leader of the anti-gang body 274, and members of the Otara Community Board met with another man, Walter Cooper, to discuss the handover. Some time after that, it became a regular hangout for the Killer Bees and the gang's leader, Josh Marsters.
The Herald on Sunday has learned it became a venue for regular fights. Some were held in the car park the hall shares with the Otara Pre-School, others were held inside.
It was one fight organised inside, between Marsters and an unknown man, which led to a large police raid. Just after midday on February 28, more than 100 people gathered to watch the fight when police descended.
Officers were so concerned about the crowd, and the weapons known to be carried by those watching, that armed officers with Bushmaster rifles and dog units were called to help break it up.
Councillor and mayoral aspirant Dick Quax said the council "had to take it on the chin" for allowing a "council facility to be used as a gang headquarters".
He said the police and 274, the anti-gang youth group, had to take responsibility. The police should have been more active and not allowed the gang to become established at Sandbrook Reserve, and 274 needed to take responsibility, having received almost $400,000 in government funding to defuse gang problems in Otara. "I really don't know how effective they have been."
Jim Searle, Eastern District commander, said police turned out in force because of concerns for public safety. He pointed to two operations aimed at hurting gangs by targeting tinnie houses, but would not go into detail because of "operational security".
Meanwhile, the leisure centre was booked on February 19 by the "Bradaf Boxing Club", which is not registered with any official body.
Walter Cooper paid $880 to rent the leisure centre and a further $1000 as a bond. The money was paid over in $10 bills. Marsters was among those down to fight in the ring.
How the gangs work
The senior gang, which has a house in a dead-end Otara street as its headquarters. It is believed to control much of the illegal activity, especially running tinnie houses, in Otara. There are about 30 members, and a number of associates vying for entry.
A feeder gang for the Tribesmen, with members in their teens and early 20s. They often staff the tinnie houses, or use intimidation to take vehicles which are easily sold off for parts. Recently, some have drawn pistols to threaten people with. They are identified by black clothing with bright gold lettering.
MRC and PDB
These are feeder gangs into the Killer Bees. Members are aged nine to 13 and they use standover tactics en masse. "Steaming" is a tactic used to rob shops where large numbers swamp a store and take what they can.