Thefts were to pay off gang debt

A woman attributed a recent four-hour, $1200 shoplifting spree at several Dunedin shops to a debt she owed a Christchurch gang, the Dunedin District Court heard yesterday.

Janelle Marie Bagley-Witehira, also known as Gaffey, a 31-year-old Dunedin receptionist, told police she felt ''threatened and intimidated to steal for the gang to clear the debt''.

Bagley-Witehira yesterday admitted six charges of stealing from five different stores, twice from one shop, on December 15 and was remanded for sentence on February 21.

Prosecutor Acting Sergeant Kate Saxton said Bagley-Witehira went to Bed Bath and Beyond about noon on December 15 and stole two duvet sets valued at $109.80. About an hour and a-half later, she went to Acquisitions where she stole four picture frames valued at $119.96.

She returned to the same shop about 3pm, to steal various items valued at $157.94 before going to Just Jeans and Glassons, stealing a $49.99 pair of shorts at each. Between the thefts, the defendant would return to her parked car and leave the stolen items there, Acting Sgt Saxton said.

About 3.30pm, Bagley-Witehira went to Witchery and stole a $209.80 dress, which she placed in her car. She then went to Arthur Barnetts where she stole three sets of women's underwear and two pairs of pyjama bottoms, valued at $499.68 before again returning to her car.

Police had been contacted by a Glassons employee who noticed the defendant behaving suspiciously and, when Bagley-Witehira was spoken to, she admitted stealing the various items which were all recovered. She said she took them because she owed money to a gang in Christchurch.

The total retail cost of the stolen property was $1197, Acting Sgt Saxton said, but no reparation was sought, as all items were recovered in a saleable condition.

Counsel Brian Kilkelly applied for bail and for continued name suppression for the defendant but Judge Michael Crosbie, while granting bail, refused to allow ongoing name suppression. He said the offending had ''all the hallmarks'' of an organised operation, particularly given Bagley-Witehira's previous history.

And he said the reasons she gave for wanting continued suppression - needing time to tell her employer about her court appearance and the fact she had spent time in hospital last month - were not sufficient to rebut the presumption of open reporting.