Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

Interview with a burglar: 'I wouldn't be thinking of the victims. I'd feel nothing'

This week the Herald will investigate burglaries across the country in the most in-depth series on the subject ever done in New Zealand. Over five days we will examine where burglaries happen, talk to victims, burglars and the police and find out how you can protect your home and business. In part four we look at what drives people to commit such crimes and the impacts their activities have on commercial areas.


When the footsteps stopped and he heard the door close, John Mackie would kick, smash and sneak his way into the house he was sleeping under and get to work.

He would have a shower, something to eat and wash his clothes before he began searching for things to steal.

"I wouldn't be thinking of the victims. I'd feel nothing. Oh, excitement - 'What am I going to get? Am I going to find any money or jewellery? Am I going to find someone's spare keys to their car and take their car and sell it?' I'd break into anything. Whatever was behind the window that I could flick off for something or just for something to do and getting an adrenaline rush.

"I just did it because it was a normal thing to do. I would have done over 200. If I got caught I would admit it, but I didn't care because then I had a safety net and somewhere to live, eat, sleep [in prison]."

Mr Mackie, 59, said he has spent 48 years of his life in and out of the prison system - including time he was forced to live at boys' borstal homes.

"I've been in Rimutaka, Mt Eden, everywhere. I knew I was getting three meals a day, doctor's bills, electricity bills, clothing, everything. Come out here it's a different story."

Born in Whanganui, he said he was put into state care at the age of about 4 and went from foster home to foster home all over the country.

Former burglar John Mackie at his Upper Hutt home. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Former burglar John Mackie at his Upper Hutt home. Photo / Mark Mitchell

By the time he was 8 years old he was homeless and committing crimes to survive.
Psychologist Richard Wheeler said it was nothing new that criminals - including burglars - came from dysfunctional and often abusive backgrounds.

"They will grow up with a sense of injustice and a rejection of the values of society. Perhaps the level of [the abuse/dysfunction] is such that they see society as having let them down in such a way that they can carry on in getting whatever they like as justification for that."

An explanation that aligned with Mr Mackie's experiences.

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He tried to sell my stolen belongings to me

"By the time I was 7 or 8 years old I had hardcore beliefs. Entitlement, violence was normal - all that kind of stuff. It was a very competitive world out there. If I wanted something I just took it.

"I didn't care who ... it came from, I had to survive."

On a sunny morning in Manurewa, Counties-Manukau Police constables Phil Moody, Karen Tabb and Cameron Henderson are off to check on local burglars who are on bail.

The first stop is for a 21-year-old man, who cannot be named as he faces current charges before the courts, who breached his strict bail conditions the night before.

The trio - with this reporter and a Herald videographer observing - arrive in the midst of his daughter's first birthday.

The man, who is shirtless with "Crips 4 Life" tattooed across his chest, is unable to account for his absence the night before - and is arrested.

"We'll save you some cake, bro," yells an associate at the house.

In the back of the police car on the way to Counties-Manukau HQ where he will be processed and appear in court that afternoon, the man tells the Herald about his offending.

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

"I'd just do it because I had no money. I started stealing from supermarkets and The Warehouse.

"I'd see other people driving around here in flash cars, and I know how they got their money and it wasn't from hard work, and I just wanted to look like that and be like that."

He said he often stole from his neighbours or those nearby unless he had access to a car to travel to "the rich suburbs".

"Yeah, I'd feel bad doing it, but not bad enough - and these days I am doing it because I can't get a job that pays enough.

"I do scaffolding but everything's so expensive. It cost me $130 for my baby's cake."
Criminologist and gang expert Dr Jarrod Gilbert said burglary - like all industries - was supply and demand.

"When people steal things they need to be able to get rid of them or make use of them theirselves, with the nickle-and-dime stuff they just see something and steal it and maybe sell it to mates.

"When it's stolen to order, these people work with professional receivers which can range from shoplifting ... to higher ticket items."

While Mr Mackie was in Black Power for 35 years - and felt a sense of achievement when his "gang family" were proud of his thefts, Dr Gilbert said gangs did not tend to be the main drivers of the crimes.

It was more common that burglars would try and flick the goods off to friends, or sell them easily online.

Businesses like Trade Me and Cash Converters work closely with police to ensure stolen items are not sold through their channels.

Lists of registered serial numbers of stolen items are provided by police, so they can check if any property is "hot".

Trade Me's head of security, Jon Duffy, said people had to be "pretty stupid" to try and sell goods on the site.

"You leave deep digital footprints onsite and we have a 24/7 policing team and a trust and safety team who dedicate themselves to ... squashing any dodgy activity," he said.

Canterbury Police Detective Inspector Tony Hill - whose team found more than $150,000 of goods from one person's home this week - said police were looking in the same place as everyone else.

"We don't see organised crime gangs as having a direct correlation to burglaries. Normally we find that the burglars are more than capable of distributing their stolen property themselves through online or second-hand dealers.

"We have found three big receivers recently where they have actually been storing the stuff in the same areas where they are selling them."

However, Dr Gilbert said if gangs were involved they were likely to target more commercial areas.

His comments aligned with the burglary data the Herald has obtained which showed nearly 100,000 of the crimes occurred in the 18 months to December 31.

Many of the most targeted areas were commercial - including the most burgled neighbourhood in East Tamaki, Auckland.


Another ex-burglar, Adrian Pritchard, said he didn't just burgle to feed his own drug habit - he "burgled to order".

"People used to say to me, 'Bro, can you get me this.' So I used to [plan] how to get it."

Over more than a decade, from age 14 until he was locked up for an armed robbery in his mid-20s, he burgled two or three premises most nights.

Often it was pharmacies that held the drugs he craved. Sometimes they were car yards, supermarkets, even boats with wetsuits, diving gear or outboard motors. But most of the time they were houses, carefully targeted with one or two mates.

"We ... used to walk the streets or drive the streets during the day and prospect the houses." Then they would come back at night, park the car a safe distance away and break into the most vulnerable houses.

Police knew him well and sometimes caught him, but the gains outweighed the occasional punishment.

"I was making between $2500 and $25,000 a night.

"Sometimes I might get three months in jail. Three to six months, it's just a holiday for a lot of people."

Mr Pritchard eventually changed his ways, but New Zealand Prison Fellowship national director Phil McCarthy said the difficulties of rehabilitation into society for burglars fed the problem.

"Prisoners on release face a huge range of serious obstacles and they are worse the longer, or more frequently, they have been in prison.

"That's why we tend to view the use of prisons very much as a last resort."

When a person is imprisoned, it may remove a main income earner from a family and drive their children and partner into crime to make ends meet, he said.

Finding employment upon release was a huge deterrent to re-offending.

Now living in Upper Hutt, Mr Mackie has isolated himself from his criminal past.

"I didn't want to be part of it anymore. I cut off all my connections, I educated myself, I have done restorative justice, [therapy] and rehabilitation."

However, three years since he was released from prison after serving a 12-year sentence for burglary, and with an academic transcript boasting lines of A+ marks and certificates proving everything, he cannot find employment.

"I have a level four business management qualification and ... no one is willing to give me a job."

New data shows the areas hardest hit by burglaries are the most deprived parts of the country, and research shows it is the people living there who are committing the crimes.

Click here to see how your neighbourhood compares to the rest of NZ

Never-before-released figures obtained as part of a major Herald investigation show police logged 97,707 burglaries in the 18 months after a new recording system was introduced on July 1, 2014. While burglaries happen in nearly every neighbourhood, the figures show that more than 17,300 were in the top 100 suburbs - with 21.5 per cent of the crimes happening in just 5 per cent of the country's neighbourhoods.

The three worst-hit areas in the country are in south Auckland. The business-dominated area around the Westfield mall in Manukau was heaviest hit, with 75 burglaries in the 18-month period in question. Another primarily commercial area, in East Tamaki, was second-hardest hit, with 71.

The worst-hit mostly residential area was part of nearby Takanini South with 68.

5 tips for a safe home

1. Tell your neighbours if you're going away so they clear your letterbox and watch for visitors.

2. Don't shut all your curtains; leave the bed unmade so it looks like you're at home.

3. Get an alarm.

4. Get a dog - "anything that makes a noise".

5. Install deadlocks so burglars who break in can't open the door to get stuff out.

- NZ Herald

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