Mall burglar admits nationwide spree

Reparations of $72,000 may be sought from a roof-top burglar who targeted shopping malls throughout New Zealand, including five in Christchurch.

James William Cornes, 39, pleaded guilty to 19 shopping mall burglaries ranging from Auckland to Queenstown. He appeared in the Christchurch District Court by video link from the men's prison, where he has been held in custody on remand.

Cornes' defence counsel, Kirsten Gray, said he did not apply for bail pending sentencing and home detention was effectively ruled out by Judge Gary MacAskill.

The judge said: "He is out of range of anything less than imprisonment."

Police prosecutor Chris Hunt told the judge that reparation figures were still being tallied, but a figure would be available ahead of the sentencing which is set for September 18.

The present indication is that $22,000 in cash was taken, and damage totalled about $50,000 from the break-ins.

Cornes travelled around the country by public transport and hitch-hiking to commit his burglaries, using the money he took to pay for his travel and accommodation costs.

He was stopped by police on Auckland's North Shore on March 2 and found with a bag containing burglary tools. They were taken off him, but he got more tools which he used for the later break-ins. He has admitted a charge of possession of the instruments.

He broke into these shopping malls: Richmond Mall, Nelson; City Centre Mall, Dunedin; Centre Place Mall, Hamilton; Logan Plaza in Upper Hutt; Johnsonville Mall, Wellington; Coastlands Mall, Kapiti Coast; Eastridge Mall, Westfield Newmarket and Meadowbank Shopping Plaza in Auckland; Trafalgar Square Mall, Wanganui; Palm Beach Shopping Centre, Tauranga; Remarkables Park, Queenstown; South City Mall, Barrington Mall, The Hub Hornby, Merivale Mall, and Northlands Mall in Christchurch. Some centres were burgled more than once.

Cornes' method was the same in each case. He would go to a mall and identify the shops in the complex that he wanted to target. These were often icecream shops and hairdressers because there was less chance of them having alarms and a high chance there would be cash in the shop.

He would walk around the inside and outside of the complex, and sometimes drew a map of the floor plan.

After hours, in the dark, he would climb on the roof, cut a hole, and fold back the roofing iron.

He would then climb down into the ceiling cavity and move to his target shop before removing the ceiling tiles or kicking holes to gain entry.

He would lower himself into the shop and search for cash in the shop, till, and office areas.

Sometimes he would force open office safes. He would then use office furniture or ladders from inside the shops to climb back up through the ceiling and move to another shop. He would hit between one and five shops in each mall.

His method was to leave the town or city the same day.

When police caught him, he said he had been up to a few things that he should not have been doing.

The Press