How one street beat the burglars

By Michael Dickison, Natalie Akoorie

Their homes under constant threat of burglary, a neighbourhood came together to stop a gang of thieves in a chase that involved residents young and old and resulted in the arrest of four youths

Christine Webber keeps a close eye on the comings and goings in Alderson Rd. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Christine Webber keeps a close eye on the comings and goings in Alderson Rd. Photo / Steven McNicholl

The crime-fighting success of residents in Hamilton's Fairview Downs earned praise from the police, and one resident says he hopes the story inspires others to do the same.

The area has suffered dozens of burglaries in the past year - but last weekend, residents of Alderson Rd seized the moment when they saw the gang of thieves casing their street.

On Friday, Christine Webber - referred to by neighbours as "Miss Marple" for the vigilant watch she keeps - saw a gang breaking in next door.

"They came very cleverly round the back, the blindside, so I couldn't see them out my kitchen window," she said. "They were gone very quickly, with a sports bag, a PlayStation and anything else they could find of value."

When the neighbours returned and discovered the theft, they turned to Ms Webber for clues.

With description in hand, the victims told other neighbours.

"Of course everyone tells three people, and those three tell another three," Ms Webber said.

The next day about 1pm, four teenagers fitting the descriptions were spotted a few houses down.

But as two jumped the fence, another neighbour driving past raced home and yelled to his wife to call the police. Another resident, who did not want to be named, said he noticed the group walking up and down the street while he was having a late lunch outside.

"There was a funny noise," the man said. "So I got up and had a look."

A young man had wrapped a piece of cloth around his arm and was punching through a ranch slider.

"Oi I want to talk to you! What are you doing?" the neighbour said he yelled as he walked to the middle of the street.

The youth then "told me where to go" and "what to do" and "gave me the bird", the man said.

The three other miscreants emerged from a side gate and scurried up an alley.

But another neighbour then began shouting. Soon, several other residents along the suburban street many of whom had never met were joining in the chase.

Residents phoned police, a teenager gave chase on a bicycle, and one man brought out his camera to gather photographic evidence.

One neighbour caught the action on video - "three guys semi-jogging and running past in a strange way, looking back" - and two minutes later "a bike went by in a blur", the biker "frantically pedalling".

As the commotion passed by the scene of the first burglary, the residents recognised their intruders and joined the hunt.

Azza, as he wanted to be known, and his 18-year-old nephew saw the youths "bolt", and ran after them.

"We chased them three blocks over. We were cutting through lots of alleyways."

At the end of the street one of the youths spotted an 11-year-old girl's birthday bike parked against a dairy wall. He snatched it in an effort to shake off the mob.

By now it was two on two after one youth "shot through a paddock" on the stolen bike, but Azza said the pair he was in pursuit of had "too much distance" on them.

"Then a cop came flying round the corner and I just pointed to the cop as I was running and saying, 'Yeah, those are the guys there'. He came speeding around the corner, pulled up right next to them, jumped out of the car and slammed handcuffs on them."

Another resident said: "I just think we've had a bit of a gutsful of what some people get away with. We're prepared now to stand up."

Inspector Greg Nicholls said the neighbours had been "hot on the heels" of the four young men. Officers arrested three almost immediately, and caught up with the fourth the next day.

"The assistance provided by the public in this matter speaks volumes for the community spirit in this area and just how effective the timely relaying of information can be," Mr Nicholls said.

The residents talked afterwards about setting up a watch along the street.

Ms Webber has estimated a burglary a week on the street plus a stabbing, a drug raid, slug-gun pot shots through bedroom windows, and a visit by the armed offenders squad in the last year.

"We'd had a year of burglaries and trouble," she said, adding that her efforts to stop boy racers using the street had resulted in windows being egged.

"We don't have a Neighbourhood Watch but everyone was watching everyone's back. You had to."

She said the word needs to go out.

"We're just not going to tolerate this type of thing any longer, the disrespect. Sure times are tough but they're not any easier for anyone who's worked to get what they own."

New Zealand used to be a nice place once, she said. Now she screws down her windows.

At the house the youths targeted on Saturday, a woman said she had the actions of her neighbours to thank for stopping the burglary.

"Hopefully this is something that's going to spur everybody on to set up a neighbourhood support group," she said.

Another man said: "You just get sick of this sort of nonsense. I hope more neighbourhoods do the same thing."

Four young males aged 15 to 18 have been charged for burglary-related crimes.

- NZ Herald

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