Victims of armed robberies tell of living in the aftermath
Robbers using firearms are rare in Taranaki, but after one offender was this week jailed for a string of offences, LEIGHTON KEITH speaks to victims of armed offences about the dramatic toll the experience has on them.
"All I saw was the double barrel but I knew it was a gun because my dad used to have guns like that years and years ago," Joy Greenlees recalls.
The owner of the Fitzroy TAB in New Plymouth's day had begun as usual on October 12, 2016, but Greenlees was unaware what lay in store.
"I was just going about the usual morning duties of balancing up from the previous day."
But, just after mid-day, gun toting Teaomarama Moke Tupe, who was suffering with a drug-related psychotic illness after weeks of abusing alcohol, methamphetamine and cannabis, walked through the door.
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The 67-year-old says alarm bells started ringing as soon as she saw Tupe, who has four children with his partner and co-offender Jannah Patricia Bennett.
He had a fluffy white scarf wrapped around his face, wore a high-viz vest and carried a black sports bag and another fluorescent vest.
"As he walked up towards me, my first thoughts were, 'You can't come in here like that. I have to be able to see your face.'
"I had never thought of a hold-up or anything like that, I was just thinking, 'Why is he dressed like that? I've got to be able to see him.'"
Tupe's strange appearance had also immediately caused concern with Kris Armstrong, who owns the Mee O Mi gift shop across the road from the TAB.
"I was talking with a customer at the time but I just instantly knew that something wasn't quite right," Armstrong says.
"I told the lady 'stay here, I think that there's going to be a robbery'."
Meanwhile, inside the TAB Tupe had placed the bag and vest on the counter, exposing the shotgun's barrels, and told Greenlees to "put the money in the bag".
"To be honest I was just numb and it was like this is not really happening but it was really happening."
Greenlees says it's hard to explain what was running through her head at the time but she instinctively followed the training she had received.
"I just basically did what I was told because our training has always been - the money is not worth your life."
There was a brief moment of relief when Tupe left, she says.
"I was still sort of stunned and it seemed like forever, but it was probably only a second later, when it kicked in, 'Oh my God I've got to ring 111 and make sure everyone's ok and watch where he is going'."
Armstrong had also grabbed her telephone and was relaying Tupe's direction of travel to police as he fled the scene.
Hours earlier Tupe had abandoned an attempt to rob the Nag 'N' Noggin TAB Bar in Westown.
CCTV cameras captured footage of Tupe wearing his disguise and an accomplice standing outside on the bar's deck for about five minutes before he entered and walked around then left again.
"I was about to say would you like to take your scarf off and he just walked out," the duty manager, Trish, says.
"He just looked ridiculous."
Five days earlier Tupe and Bennett struck the Barriball St dairy, stealing the cash register with about $450 inside after the Asian female owner fled in fear.
The owners didn't want to speak with the media about the terrifying experience, but the woman's victim impact statement detailed how she believed there was a gun in the bag Tupe was carrying and feared she could have been shot.
Betty Leung, who works as an interpreter for police, says the majority of dairies around New Plymouth were owned by members of the Asian community and they were often targeted by robbers, which was taking its toll.
"They are actually living in fear because you don't know when it's going to happen again," Leung says.
"They feel anxious when they see people wearing hoodies coming into the shop."
Leung says language barriers and concerns that the law is too lenient had left the owners feeling vulnerable.
"They just want to get on with their lives without these people coming back."
Although police told the victims of armed robberies not to take the law into their own hands, Leung says if she was in their position she might consider taking steps to protect herself.
"If I was the owner I would probably put a bat of some sort under the counter."
Treehouse Bar and Bistro owner Wayne Brougham says he will never forget being confronted by two sawn-off shotgun-wielding bandits wearing full face motorbike helmets and jackets.
Brougham was the manager of the business at the time Adam Te Rata Charles Morehu and Kevin Ronald Bishell, robbed it in the early hours of Christmas Day 2012.
"I was just walking through the bar and I walked around the corner to a six-foot tall dude with a double barrel pointed at my face.
"It's not something that I would wish upon anyone. It was pretty daunting."
Morehu forced Brougham to open the safe while he continued to point the gun at his head, while Bishell stood guard watching two other staff members.
"If someone is desperate enough to do something like that, you don't know what they are capable of."
The pair then fled on a motorbike.
Brougham says the ordeal made him more cautious and suspicious of people.
"I realised I was looking at everyone who walked through the door."
Morehu was later shot and killed by police during a botched burglary at the New Plymouth Golf Club on June 8, 2013, and Brougham says he instantly recognised a motorcycle helmet that appeared in media coverage.
"It was a sense of relief for me because until then, they hadn't arrested anyone and I still didn't know who it was."
In December 2014 Bishell was sentenced to four years and eight months imprisonment for a string of burglaries he and Morehu had committed.
As for Teaomarama Tupe, this week he was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, with a minimum non-parole period of four years, by Judge Garry Barkle in the New Plymouth District Court.
His partner, Bennett, will be sentenced on two charges of robbery on June 13.
While Greenlees, who sold the business after the holdup, was happy with Tupe's sentence, she didn't go to court and says no amount of jail time would make up for the ordeal she went through.
"I'm so pleased I wasn't there, I just don't want to see him, I made that quite clear to police I don't ever want to see him.
"I guess I was lucky, nobody got hurt and it could've been a whole lot worse."
She says Tupe's claims the gun wasn't loaded and he didn't intend to shoot anybody was no comfort.
"You don't know that, do you. If you knew that you wouldn't have handed over the money."
Looking back, Greenlees says she used greet all of her customers with a warm welcome and trust everyone, but her experience of findiong herself at the wrong end of a shotgun had changed her and she is now more suspicious and cautious about people.
"After that happened, if somebody came in that I didn't know it just changed my whole feeling about things."
She says the community has a duty to look out for each other.
"I think that we all have to do it, if we stop then it's letting them win."