Chef couple under siege

ENOUGH: Ramesh Chand and his wife fear for their safety every time they open for business and close for the night.
ENOUGH: Ramesh Chand and his wife fear for their safety every time they open for business and close for the night.

Teenage thugs have assaulted, intimidated and harassed a Hamilton restaurateur to breaking point.

Ramesh and Madhu Chand fear for their safety every time they open for business and close for the night, after being attacked repeatedly during the past week.

It is the latest chapter in the long story of safety concerns in the city's main square and it has renewed calls for a permanent police presence in Garden Place.

The Chands set up Chef's Restaurant 14 years ago after immigrating from northern India 20 years ago.

If the intimidation continues Ramesh Chand said they would have no choice but to close and move their business.

He believes the issue began when he caught a teenager carving a tag into his front window. Chand called police who caught up with the culprit on Victoria St.

On Tuesday last week Chand said a teenager walked in asking if they had seen his wallet.

"He hadn't come here to eat, he used it as an excuse to come inside and do something. I told him, ‘Please, you didn't come to eat, why are you asking me?'."

Chand said the boy left and another teenager entered soon afterwards.

"He threw my one chair badly. Another one, he took. I said, ‘Why are you taking my chair? Give me the chair'. And he wasn't giving it to me.

"Then I push him to get the chair back. Then another 10 or 12 came and started punching, [saying] ‘Come on you touched my boy' . . . they just started punching me."

Police were called but the perpetrators disappeared under Claudelands Bridge, he said.

Things escalated the next day from noon.

Police arrested one teenager after one altercation but Chand said another 15 returned afterwards.

"They just started punching [Madhu] and punching me. I was in the kitchen and came outside to save her and they took the chair and knives [saying], ‘I'll stab you' . . . they came to the fridge, stealing my drinks, wine bottles and one of the boys was trying to bottle her head and wants to kill her.

"They went up to the corner, came back then attacked again, kicking chairs, smashing against the window. Someone said, ‘Close your door. They're going to attack again', so I locked this door and that door."

Police arrested six people, but Chand believes they will be back.

The owner of nearby Velo Espresso, Matt Keen, stepped in to help Chand.

"They are walking past on a regular basis trying to intimidate him," he said. "As far as I can tell they're a new group in Garden Place and they're much more aggressive.

"We're getting quite sick of it. You never know when you'll have to go and help Ramesh out. My concern is they then come back to do something to my store as well."

Chand's good friend, Tony Randell, said the solution was to put a small permanent police kiosk in the square.

"That would solve the problem. You make it really uncomfortable for youth to lounge around here."

Mayor Julie Hardaker said she had been pushing to set one up for the past two years but the police response was always that there was a lack of resourcing.

She said a police base at the Transport Centre was successful. "We know that it works . . . It's a matter of resourcing and the police are telling me they don't have the resourcing for two permanent bases in the CBD."

Hamilton City area commander Inspector Greg Nicholls said in the ideal world he would have enough staff to have a permanent presence in the square. However, when those issues were compared to serious harm callouts across the city then they were relatively low level.

"My sense from the staff who have been tasked to meet with Mr Chand was the kids sit there and bait until they get a response from him.

"Once he responds that tends to aggravate the situation. Rather than place himself at risk, then call us, as he has done . . . use us as the group that runs interference."

Chand said police did not respond to calls about threats because they were not serious enough.

But Nicholls said he had an agreement with the beefed-up city safe staff to attend low level complaints first.

If they then called police for back-up then officers knew the matter had escalated.

He had also suggested that parking wardens wear high-visibility vests as a further deterrent.

Hardaker believed the council was doing all it could.

"Everyone in business in the city should be able to carry out their business without threat of harassment or intimidation," she said.

"At the end of the day this is a police matter and I understand the police came quickly and were able to get the young people involved. [Chand] raises a whole other issue of the criminal justice system and what happens when these events occur."

Waikato Times