A Havelock man has been sent to prison for the gunpoint robbery of an Auckland bar full of patrons.
Judge Stephen Harrop said in Blenheim District Court yesterday some of the patrons thought they were going to die and described Tiare Epere and his three co-offenders as "crazed" during the robbery.
He sentenced Epere, a 35-year-old plasterer of Havelock, to five years and six months' prison.
Epere had earlier admitted a charge of aggravated robbery.
Judge Harrop said the masked men entered the Thirsty Whale Bar about 10.45pm on July 25 and told everyone to lie on the ground, while Epere waved at shotgun at staff and patrons.
The group then forced the bar manager to hand over about $700 in cash from behind the bar, he said.
Not happy with that, Epere and another man forced the manager at gunpoint to a room containing poker machines and took money from four of the machines before taking the manager into a back office and demanding he open a safe.
When he told them he couldn't, there was a struggle and Epere hit the man in the back of the head, leaving him needing six stitches, the judge said.
The group also took cash and wallets from patrons, before driving away in a stolen car, Judge Harrop said.
He told Epere the experience was terrifying for the people in the bar who thought the gun was loaded.
There was evidence Epere felt coerced, but he was still the person who wielded the shotgun and he and others persisted in seeking more and more money during the robbery, he said.
Since his arrest, Epere had written letters of apology to the victims and appeared genuinely remorseful, Judge Harrop said.
He had also agreed to meet with his victims in a restorative justice meeting if they agreed, which showed considerable courage and suggested he did have some empathy for his victims, the judge said.
The offending appeared to be "in a whole new league" to his previous offending, he said.
Epere was on release conditions after being sent to prison for receiving stolen goods, but appeared to have his life on track and the offending came as a shock to people who knew him, he said.
One of Epere's co-offenders had also pleaded guilty and was awaiting sentence, another man was awaiting trial, while the fourth offender had not been caught, Judge Harrop said.
- The Marlborough Express