Dairy where worker fatally stabbed 'denied security'

Police Minister Chris Hipkins wants an explanation from police why the Auckland dairy where a fatal stabbing took place was not given support from a Government initiative to equip businesses with fog cannons to prevent robberies.

A male offender, who has evaded police so far, allegedly entered the Rose Cottage Superette in Sandringham yesterday evening, armed with a knife, and killed the newly-married shopkeeper who was onsite.

Police, who are searching for the offender, have appealed to the public for help from those who might have seen him in the area last night - describing the man as wearing black clothes, a cap and a black and white bandana.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whose Mt Albert electorate the stabbing took place in, has expressed her sorrow at the man’s death but has disagreed with calls from business owners that they should be armed.

”We were working with our neighborhood support co-ordinating group in Auckland to try and get fog cannons and other support services [for the superette owner],” McCaffery said.

“[The owner] approached the police and we believe that twice he was visited or contacted by the police and twice he was turned down as not being a priority.”

A 2017 Government initiative devoted funding toward installing fog cannons to protect at-risk businesses, which led to 1000 fog cannons installed.

Hundreds gathered outside the Rose Cottage Superette in Sandringham to pay tribute to the slain...
Hundreds gathered outside the Rose Cottage Superette in Sandringham to pay tribute to the slain worker. Photo: NZ Herald

The fog cannon was created to impede robbers. Given the dairy’s till was taken, it appeared yesterday’s offender intended to commit a robbery.

Speaking to media this afternoon, Hipkins said it was “not clear” to him why the dairy wasn’t approved for a fog cannon and wanted to know why.

“Based on what I can see, that business should have qualified so I’ve asked for an explanation [from police] as to why they didn’t get a fog cannon,” he said.

Later in the House in response to a question from National police spokesperson Mark Mitchell, Hipkins said the dairy should have been eligible to receive a fog cannon from as early as 2017, based on the information he currently had.

Hipkins had no further information about police’s efforts to locate the person responsible for yesterday’s stabbing, noting that his first thoughts were with the victim’s whānau.

“All New Zealanders will be feeling for [the family] today, it’s a horrible situation to find themselves in.”

Vigil outside dairy, security requests 'turned down' 

About 100 Sandringham residents gathered near the dairy in a show of support today.  Shocked residents left floral tributes on the footpath outside the shop and some gathered in prayer.

Sandringham Neighbourhood Support coordinator John McCaffery said they supported the superette owners' attempts to get more security at the shop, but police turned them down.

The group was working with them to get fog cannons and other services for the dairy, he told RNZ's Morning Report programme. 

"We wrote a letter for him to approach the police, and he did that. We believe that twice he was visited or contacted by the police and turned down as not being a priority.

"They didn't give him the reasons but I know that everyone was really distressed that there was no support coming."

Detective Inspector Scott Beard said at this stage he was focusing in the inquiry, and had not looked into the wider picture of funding for fog cannons at the dairy.

The Government recently told RNZ that security assessments of shops been accelerated as part of a programme of upgrades to protect stores from ram raids, using a $6 million crime prevention support fund launched in May. In late August they promised 40 to 50 assessments each week, but had done about 15 a week. An Official Information Act response shows that as of November 4, a total of 118 stores had been assessed.

McCaffery said an added factor in the request for security was that the owners and family lived on site.  The dairy sat on its own in residential area but was on a busy main road running from Sandringham and St Lukes shopping centre through to Owairaka and Mt Roskill. 

Neighbourhood Support had worked closely with the family, helping then with cover if the owner had to leave the shop, and it was that support that had stopped other incidents, he said.

"This dairy has a history of 15 years of violence and theft and we set that out in the letter to police."

There were no community constables in the area "and that's not the way to deal with community safety". He was sure the community felt abandoned.

"We don't write letters to the police ... in the strongest possible terms if we don't think it's important. I'm sure the community will [get through it] but the question is will anything in terms of government or police policy change?"

McCaffery was very upset by the fatal attack. "It's a tragedy."

The owner and family were valued members of the community: "He's a member of the Neighbourhood Support support group, he donates food and supplies for our community functions, and he's well-loved by the community as are the whole family."

A cordon remains around the Sandringham dairy where a worker was stabbed. Photo: NZ Herald
A cordon remains around the Sandringham dairy where a worker was stabbed. Photo: NZ Herald

'This country is becoming lawless'

The Dairy and Business Owners Group chairman, Sunny Kaushal, told The New Zealand Herald today the stabbing in Sandringham has left “us all numb with shock”.

“This country is becoming lawless. This was a law-abiding citizen just doing his job.”

Kaushal believed the attack could have been avoided.

“We have been telling the Government for the last five years. Now the worst fear has happened. Last night we lost one of us.”

The Government’s soft-on-crime approach has led offenders to have no fear of authorities, he believed. 

“Dairy shop owners are extremely fearful for their lives. Running a business in this country has become very difficult. The Government has blood on its hands.”

Kaushal said somebody needed to take responsibility for Wednesday's death and the Government "owes answers to the worker’s family”. 

A resident who lives near the dairy said they heard the sirens at the end of their driveway on Wednesday night and saw armed police, along with the Eagle helicopter and ambulance.

The resident called the family who owned the dairy “lovely”.

“When you live in a suburb like this, you don’t expect things like this to happen but the whole dynamic of Auckland is changing now,” the resident said.

Another neighbour told a photographer at the scene they came to the dairy often.

“A lovely young family owns it, they only left a few days ago for a vacation. Sadly, it seems someone has taken advantage.”

He said in particular, families with kids would be more hesitant to go to the shop following the attack.

“It’s not the place to send your kids to now until things settle down… do they settle down now? I don’t think they do."

Spate of crimes in Sandringham

The suburb of Sandringham had a large spate of crime between February and March earlier this year, with vape shops being targeted along with liquor stores and dairies.

During this period, local business owners were taking drastic measures to protect themselves and their businesses.

Liquor store owner Andy Lin spent three months sleeping in his shop due to being targeted with ramraids and break-ins multiple times. An elderly member of the public was stabbed in June when he stood up for a shopkeeper who was targeted during a robbery.

The business owners tried banding together to collectively hire an overnight security guard, which didn’t go ahead due to a lack of funding.

None of the mitigation measures such as bollards was made available to the businesses through the $6 million Crime Prevention Fund, according to Business Association manager Mark Scherer, which in September had only supported five businesses across the country.

“They were known targets,” he said.

The Sandringham Business Association Whatsapp chat was “pretty active” last night. Scherer said the local community leaders are appalled by the news of the stabbing. 

“People aren’t just upset anymore, they’re angry. It’s the step too far we thought would happen at some stage. We knew if these violent attacks continued somebody would be killed, now that’s happened.”

- RNZ and The New Zealand Herald