Terror phonecalls before Wainuiomata home invasion

POLICE SCENE: A Wainuiomata house was robbed early this morning while the couple was tied up inside.
POLICE SCENE: A Wainuiomata house was robbed early this morning while the couple was tied up inside.

Two grandparents attacked in their home by masked robbers armed with baseball bats had been receiving alarming phone calls before the home invasion.

Trevor Cotter, 74, and wife Marie, 64, were attacked in their house in Wainuiomata, Lower Hutt, just before 5am yesterday.

Three men, wearing dark clothes and balaclavas and carrying baseball bats, broke in and woke Mrs Cotter when one of them put a hand over her mouth.

She was manhandled though to her husband's bedroom, where they forced a handkerchief into her mouth and tied a gag around her head.

"I couldn't imagine a more terrifying thing," Detective Senior Sergeant Dave Thornton of Lower Hutt said.

Mr Cotter, who recently had surgery, alerted the invaders to his condition. As a result, they tied him up only by his hands.

The couple were made to sit, tied up separately, on Mr Cotter's bed while the robbers stole a "substantial" amount of cash, and left after 20 to 30 minutes.

"They were scared to death effectively. They were terrified," Mr Thornton said.

Mr Cotter was able to get to the kitchen with the help of a crutch and cut himself free, then alert police. He was unhurt, but his wife suffered minor head injuries.

The couple, who have a regular stall at Lower Hutt's Riverbank Market selling homemade cakes, sandwiches, and buns, recently had food stolen from their catering van and received phone calls "causing them some concerns", Mr Thornton said.

One neighbour told The Dominion Post yesterday that she had been told the calls were threatening.

Mr Thornton confirmed that the Cotters' adult son - who lived with them but had been house-sitting elsewhere on Monday night - had his car vandalised in the driveway of the Hine St home about two weeks ago.

Police were looking into links between the incidents and the home invasion. He believed the attack had been planned.

"Obviously they had some information about this couple."

It was believed the men had arrived and left from the street front, where a vehicle was heard.

"But it was not clear how they had entered the house."

Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace, a friend of the Cotters, said it was an "absolute shock" to hear of the attack. "Wainuiomata is not like that."

He initially thought the invasion had been a case of mistaken identity "but of course they do work at the market and obviously they do take a lot of cash over there".

The couple were well known in the suburb, especially Mrs Cotter, who was involved in community events. "You could not get a nicer couple."

Riverbank Market organiser Leo Su said: "They are really nice people. I have never seen them argue with anyone."

Neighbour Kevin Snelgrove said Hine St was an established and quiet area of Wainuiomata. "Certainly, things like this would be out of the blue . . . I hope they find the pricks who did this."

Neighbour Noeline Colman, who has known the couple since they moved in about 40 years ago, said: "It's very frightening. I just feel so sorry for them. He has just been in hospital."

The Cotters were staying with relatives last night.

Contact Tom Hunt
Porirua reporter
Email: tom.hunt@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @tomdom76

The Dominion Post