Shop fight arrest a warning, say police

By Elizabeth Binning

Police say the arrest of an Otara liquor store owner should be a reminder to others that using too much force to defend themselves or their property will result in prosecution.

Gilbert Road Discount Liquor store owner Virender Singh was yesterday charged with two counts of injuring with intent to injure after a fight with several youths on Tuesday night.

The charges relate to injuries two of the youths received, one of whom had a swollen nose, mouth and damage to his teeth. Police say a 15-year-old is also expected to be charged.

News of Mr Singh's arrest has outraged many members of the public who say it sends the wrong message to criminals and young people who intimidate store owners.

But Detective Senior Sergeant Dave Pizzini said the decision to charge Mr Singh followed a "thorough and professional investigation" that included interviews with everyone involved and independent witnesses.

Police have seized a number of items believed to have been used as weapons during the fight - including a knife, hockey stick and fence paling - and are reviewing CCTV footage of the fight.

Earlier in the week Mr Singh told the Herald he would fight charges as he was only defending himself after an intoxicated youth whom he believed was shoplifting entered his store.

He and his cousin were armed with the hockey stick and say they were stabbed while trying to hold down one of the youths until police arrived.

Mr Singh's wife last night told the Weekend Herald she and her husband were shocked by the charges as he had been simply defending himself.

"It's very surprising for us because he never did anything wrong."

Mr Pizzini said he could not go into the details of exactly what happened that night as the matter was now before the courts.

"The arrest serves as a reminder to all that taking the law into their own hand in some circumstances cannot be justified."

The law states that shop owners can use reasonable force to defend themselves, any other person and/or their property. But Mr Pizzini said those who chose to take the law into their own hands could face consequences.

"Those that clearly exceed that force can expect to be arrested and held to account in the criminal court."

He reassured members of the public that their requests for help would be dealt with. "Shopkeepers and the general public can be reassured that the police will respond with urgency to situations where assistance is needed. Ring 111, observe what is happening and let police deal with these situations."

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said store keepers were often placed in a position where they had to make on-the-spot decisions and didn't have time for police to arrive.

The law about how much force was "reasonable" was vague and made it difficult for shop owners who were trying to defend themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

"I think the law is causing considerable confusion and I think what will ultimately happen is that people will hesitate before they defend themselves and we will see innocent people dying."

Already there had been a lot of sympathy for Mr Singh with people offering to help fund his legal case.

He said if necessary the trust would mount a campaign to help the store owner, something it did for Penrose gunstore owner Greg Carvell, who was charged with illegal possession of a pistol after he shot an armed intruder in his store.

- NZ Herald

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