Theft at marae a puzzle

By Lin Ferguson

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The theft of $5000 worth of personal belongings and cash from a group of Italian tourists while they were eating dinner at Patiarero Marae, Jerusalem still has police stumped.

"It's weird we just haven't even able to get a handle on it at all ... nothing," Raetihi constable Bernie Deadman said.

However, they hope banks might be able to alert them if the euros stolen among the cash turn up.

Twelve of the 48-strong group of tourists had personal belongings, including small electrical items, phones and cameras taken along with thousands of dollars in cash. One woman was devastated to discover her passport had been taken.

The group had been at dinner about 7pm on November 25 when the thieves sneaked into the area where personal belongings were stored, Mr Deadman said.

The tourists were on a trip down the Whanganui River.

"They had been having a wonderful time, they told me, and the Jerusalem marae visit was to be a highlight of their trip."

Mr Deadman said the crime was extremely disrespectful, not only to the victims but also to the Jerusalem community.

"Not only did this happen in a village where the people are so close to one another, but it happened on a marae, which is really horrible for everyone."

The night of the thefts he had gone to the marae with an officer from Ohakune, he said.

"It's the first time I have ever been there for any complaint. It's a very quiet and lovely little place." Mr Deadman couldn't comment on whether the items were stolen by a person on the marae for the dinner or someone who had sneaked in that night.

"We have no idea, no idea at all."

However, a small amount of the cash stolen was in euros, he said.

"So they would have to go to a bank to exchange it.

"Hopefully, something will come from that. I'm hoping someone from a bank will contact me about people trying to exchange some euros."

The tourists have all gone home to Italy.

Nga Hononga Marae chairman Ron Hough could not be contacted yesterday but had earlier said he was very embarrassed by the incident.

"Not only has this now happened, but it has tarnished the good name of Jerusalem and its people, and we may now struggle to attract further tour groups to the town."

Mr Hough said he had taken the thefts very personally and offered to pay for most, if not all, of the items taken.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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