The residents of Ahipara's kaumātua flats in Takahe St take pride in their homes, and give every appearance of being happy with their lot. Except for one thing. Thieves are continually breaking into their cars, although they rarely, if ever, find anything worth taking.

Eighty-three-year-old Rev Eru Ihaka Harawira said the thieves obviously weren't after money. When his car was targeted, again, last week a coin container was left on the front seat.

He assumed they were looking for drugs, although he doubted that anyone who have good reason to suspect that they would find any at the community's pensioner flats.

"Amateurs!" he added.

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He was at home on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after seeing his damaged car hauled off to Kaitaia for repairs after another raid by would-be thieves, and wasn't sure when he would be back on the road.

Pat McPherson, who lives a few doors away, said the problem had been going on for 10 years, but there didn't seem to have been any incidents of cars actually being taken. Not necessarily for the want of trying, however. Harawira said his vehicle's ignition barrel had been "mangled" when he got in to go to his Sunday church service.

A neighbour had heard a noise in the night, he added, and went out, the sound of his screen door closing behind him being enough to scare the intruders off.

McPherson said the problem had become so bad that she no longer left her vehicle in the parking area at the front of the flats, despite the inconvenience. One of her neighbours went further. He removed the ignition barrel from his car when he got home, and put in back in when he wanted to go somewhere.

"It's getting out of hand," she said.

"This really shouldn't be happening."

No one could identify the felons, but some suspected that they are young given their habit of getting into vehicles by smashing the rear windows. They got into Harawira's car on Saturday night by smashing a quarter light.

"Locks don't stop them," McPherson added.

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"They just go in through the windows, but all they're ever going to find is maybe a few coins. And they don't seem to bother taking them."

She too had had a coin container moved but not taken.

Meanwhile she had asked her landlord, the Far North District Council to install a lockable gate on the street frontage, but had been told that the council couldn't afford one. Thought was now being given to fundraising for a gate, Harawira saying he knew someone who would build one in no time if the residents could find the materials.

The council had told him, however, that a gate could not be installed because it would hamper access by emergency services. He ha only seen an ambulance once or twice in the years he had lived there, he said, and he could not remember a fire engine having to get in. And the emergency services could be given keys.

"It shouldn't be a problem really, and someone has to do something about this. It's gone on too long," he said.