An alleged shoplifter caught in the act vented his rage by punching the supermarket owner before sweeping items off shelves in an act of violence the businessman's wife said was getting more frequent.

Emma Owles of Otaika Four Square in Whangārei blames financial stress, depression, and possible drug addiction for the frequency of attacks on retail outlets in the Otaika Shopping Centre.

Her husband Murray is recovering with a sore jaw after he copped a left hook from an alleged shoplifter who came into his supermarket with a toddler just before 1pm yesterday.

"People are under pressure at home financially, there may be issues around drug addiction and such behaviour is a problem for other shops as well," Emma Owles said.


Her husband was working on the supermarket floor when the man, came in and allegedly started shoving biscuits down his pants.

Murray asked the man to return the biscuits and to leave the business premises.

"The guy said 'Oh it's only biscuits' and Murray said that wasn't the point. He swings his left hand and lands a hook. I was shopping and stood in between the two," Emma Owles said.

She said the man then extended his arms across both sides of the shelves and pushed items on to the ground before walking out the door with the toddler.

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Damage to the grocery items is estimated to be about $200.

The couple have been running the supermarket for two and a half years.

Murray Owles said the community support after the incident had been humbling.


"I am really proud of Otaika and they've said they won't tolerate such behaviour."

His wife said on July 1, a man tried to open the front door with a crowbar around midnight but gave up after trying for two minutes.

Two weeks before that, thieves gained entry through a wall but fled without taking anything after the supermarket alarm went off.

Prior to the Owles taking over, three men threatened staff in the store and made off with cash and tobacco in March 2017.

The Otaika Pharmacy located in the same shopping centre had two front windows smashed around 4pm on a Saturday when the pharmacy was closed.

Nothing was taken.

A business owner in the Otaika Shopping Centre precincts is worried about the frequency of anti social behaviour targeted at retail outlets. Photo / Michael Cunningham
A business owner in the Otaika Shopping Centre precincts is worried about the frequency of anti social behaviour targeted at retail outlets. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Whangārei police confirmed receiving a report of the assault on Owles and attempted
shoplift just before 1pm yesterday and were seeking witnesses.

Police are not immediately aware of an increase in reports of offending at the Otaika Shopping Centre.
However, a spokesman said officers would deployed to areas where there was a demand and calls for service to help keep our communities safe.

Emma Owles said the building owner Foodstuffs was putting security cameras around the entire shopping centre while she and her husband were putting in roller doors.

"But that doesn't stop what people do during the day," she said, referring to the shoplifters and robbers.

The alleged shoplifter's face was clearly caught on security cameras and footage will be handed over to police.

In a short statement, Foodstuffs head of corporate affairs Antoinette Laird said: "The matter was now with the police and we can make no further comment other than that we do not tolerate abuse or unpleasant behaviour towards our staff or customers ever, neither do we tolerate shoplifting."


Foodstuffs bought the Otaika Shopping Centre in late 2018 but does not have immediate plans to convert the site into a supermarket.

The retail giant, which owns Four Square, Pak'nSave and New World, paid $3.8 million at an auction for the shopping centre and will allow retailers in the centre to continue until their leases run out.

Most of the retailers have 10-year leases that expire in 2027.

The building consists of eight businesses, including the Otaika Four Square, Aussie Butcher, Liquorland, Otaika Dairy, a pharmacy that doubled in size since it began operating in 1983 and now has 16 staff, Four Square, and Lotto and Post Shop.