James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Family's home-raid heartbreak

Police describe the trashing of a house by a group of 12- and 13-year-olds as 'the worst burglary in a decade'.

Candy Atkinson says she's horrified such young children could think of destroying her family's home as they have. Photo / Christine Cornege
Candy Atkinson says she's horrified such young children could think of destroying her family's home as they have. Photo / Christine Cornege

Candy Atkinson and her three children huddle together in a friend's bedroom at night and struggle to sleep a week after a group of kids burgled and trashed their home.

Four children, aged just 12 and 13, have been referred to Youth Aid in Hamilton for their part in what police called "the worst burglary in a decade".

Ms Atkinson, a data manager, returned home on Tuesday of last week about 8pm with her children aged 7, 11 and 12 and noticed the front door ajar.

Their home had been burgled, with several electronic items taken.

She told her children to grab some blankets and their pyjamas and after telling a neighbour and police her home had been burgled, they left for a friend's house.

Some time between 9pm and 6am, the burglars returned. An experienced crime-scene investigator would later describe the mess inside the house as "heartbreaking".

Ms Atkinson, 34, was shaking and in tears when she walked through the scene with police the next day, having discovered the break-in when returning to the house in the morning.

"It was mindless destruction ... they tipped out all the drawers in my kids' rooms for no reason other to than to pour food over them, they have thrown eggs at the walls and at our photos and they have ruined a portrait of me and my son that was done when he was 4."

"They have thrown pretty much what they could get their hands on, just to add to it they have grabbed the cooking oil and poured it over things [and] used the cooking oil sprays and sprayed the walls."

Stuffed toys were found burned in the fireplace, obscenities were smeared over the walls and bottles of cream were poured over the children's bedding.

Work friends and staff from her children's school helped to clean up the mess over the weekend. The family plan to return to their home but are staying with a friend for now.

"The kids won't sleep anywhere else but in the same room, they're a bit unsettled. I'm just very horrified because my son is 12 so it's unfathomable really that kids are out at that time of night and could think of doing that kind of destruction."

She said the loss of the children's electronics had hit them hard but the theft of her laptop and hard-drive containing hundreds of her children's photographs and her family whakapapa was "devastating".

"We had a whole heap of family research on there so the loss of those things was just gutting."

Hamilton city tactical co-ordinator Senior Sergeant Freda Grace said burglary and vandalism were not uncommon but the severity of this attack was extreme.

"It is very, very devastating for families," she said. "It's a big, massive job for them to clean up and get the house to a standard where they will be able to live in it again."

Anecdotal evidence pointed to a "significant proportion" of burglaries in the Hamilton area being committed by children aged between 13 and16.

Hamilton police said last year that nearly a quarter of all burglaries occurred between 9am and 5pm and many involved children.

Ms Grace said the children involved were likely to be connected with others selling property on the black market but they would often keep some of their loot.

"Clearly they wouldn't be out doing that kind of offending generally if they hadn't got the idea or the push from someone.

"Thirteen or 14 is more regular but 12 is a little less regular, it's probably the exception to the rule."

- NZ Herald

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