James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Rampage at country pub earns jail term

Offender's family say he was battling depression and had other issues

Judge David Ruth ordered Michael Stark to undertake alcohol counselling after his release. Photo / File
Judge David Ruth ordered Michael Stark to undertake alcohol counselling after his release. Photo / File

A man in a ninja suit who went on a rampage at a Waikato pub, threatening to shoot patrons and pointing a gun at one man's head, was battling depression and problems with alcohol and gambling, his family say.

Michael Lawrence Stark was sentenced yesterday to 18 months in prison after an August terror spree that could have ended with multiple fatalities.

The 20-year-old from Orini had earlier pleaded guilty to a number of charges - including demanding with menace, burglary and theft, unlawfully taking a tractor, wilful damage and unlawful possession of a firearm - after a spate of incidents.

Yesterday, the Hamilton District Court was told how Stark went on a crime spree over August 24 and 25, taking a .22 rifle and ammunition from a friend's house before defacing an uncle's cowshed with graffiti.

He then stole his grandfather's $80,000 tractor and knocked over two road signs before going to the Taupiri Tavern, where he defaced the tractor with graffiti that read, "The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club."

The following night, clad in black, wearing a ninja mask and armed with the rifle and silencer, Stark went back to the pub, where a large group of people, including many children, had gathered to watch an All Blacks test match.

He approached a man in the carpark, demanding money as he pointed the rifle at him.

He then turned the weapon on a group of people sitting at a picnic table, demanding they put their money on the table before firing three shots in the air saying, "I'm f***ing serious."

He fled the scene and was arrested by police as he tried to hide in nearby bush after stashing his weapon at the Taupiri Bowling Club.

Judge David Ruth said it was Stark's first offence - albeit "a quite spectacular one" - and it was fortunate that police were not dealing with multiple tragedies.

"We now live in an age where urban terrorism is a bit of a byword," he said.

"But you must understand that a court is going to regard firing a firearm out in the open or anywhere else is going to get you locked up in prison for a long time."

Stark's mother begged the court to assist her son, who had suffered through the negative effects of alcohol and gambling.

Theresa Stark said her family's relationship with her son was dysfunctional and the family had endured years of abuse from him "until it was no longer tolerable".

Her son was diagnosed with depression at 9 but the family had problems engaging him with mental health specialists.

"We want to see him turn his life around ...

"We love him and we will be there when he is ready to accept our help," Mrs Stark said.

Judge Ruth gave the accused man credit for his previous good character but said his crime qualified as an offence under the three-strikes legislation.

He ordered Stark to undertake alcohol counselling upon his release.

Outside court, Mrs Stark said her son had a debt to pay to society and needed help.

"I hope he comes out a better person," she said.

"I'm just so pleased that no one was hurt."

- NZ Herald

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