South Island woman stole $8278 in groceries to 'share with others'

Countdown Trafalgar Park, now Woolworths, in Nelson was a favoured supermarket for Ebony Rapana...
Countdown Trafalgar Park, now Woolworths, in Nelson was a favoured supermarket for Ebony Rapana who stole more than $8000 in goods over 10 months. Photo: Tracy Neal
A woman who stole more than $8000 worth of items from a supermarket chain says she was desperate at the time - and she shared what she took with others who were in the same position.

Ebony Rapana admitted nine shoplifting charges in the Nelson District Court on Monday, four of which were for theft of goods worth over $1000. In total, she stole items worth $8278 from several Countdown stores over a 10-month period from July 2022.

Woolworths NZ, formally known as Countdown, wouldn’t comment on the case as it was still before the courts but told NZME the company had experienced a 326 per cent increase in thefts from its stores over the past six years. At the same time, there had been an 806 per cent rise in security incidents and a 303 per cent increase in physical assaults.

The company declined to say how Rapana was able to offend so repeatedly from its stores, but it had “a number of safety and security measures being rolled out” to make stores safer for team members and customers.

Rapana’s most expensive outing was in July 2022 when she walked out of a central Nelson Countdown supermarket with a trolley-load of goods including health and beauty products, meat and confectionary worth almost $1300.

She was seen on CCTV walking the trolley out of the store.

She told the police she was desperate at the time, living in emergency housing and “just did it”.

Rapana also said there were others around her in the same situation so she shared what she stole.

The police said Rapana’s method was to place low-value items on top of the trolley and walk out.

On August 9, 2022, Rapana returned to Countdown, loaded a trolley and once more tried to conceal items by placing low-value items on top. On that occasion, the theft of goods totalled $639.

A few days later she was back at the same store, where she loaded a trolley and walked through the checkout, making no attempt to pay for the items worth $1132.

She was back again on August 31, this time stealing items worth $1050.

On December 30 2022 she entered Countdown Trafalgar Park, loaded a trolley and went through the checkout without paying for items worth $1279.

Her trip to the supermarket on March 24, 2023, resulted in the theft of goods worth $619.

On two trips to Countdown in April last year she stole goods totalling $1276, and on May 8 she returned and left with a trolley load valued at $986.

Judge Jo Rielly said it was “significant shoplifting offending” and that Rapana was lucky not to have been remanded in custody but the offending had taken time to catch up with her.

Her request for Restorative Justice to be explored was granted, but Judge Rielly said that decision would be up to the supermarket operator.

Woolworths NZ said it knew that strong relationships with the police, community groups and other retailers were critical to helping address the problem, and this was something they continued to build.

It was recently reported that the supermarket chain was investing $45 million in security upgrades to tackle the sharp rise in shoplifting and aggression. These included trolley lock systems, push-to-talk radios and double-entry gates.

Woolworths operates more than 190 stores, serving about three million customers every week.

Its rival is grocery company Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd owned by the retailers’ co-operatives Foodstuffs North Island Limited and Foodstuffs South Island Limited.

Together, the two co-operatives collectively control an estimated 53 per cent of the New Zealand grocery market.

In June last year, Foodstuffs recorded an alarming increase in retail crime and vicious assaults on staff across its 320 supermarkets in the North Island.

A spokesperson for the co-operative, Emma Wooster, told NZME that Foodstuffs North Island currently had a focus on reducing retail crime in their stores and a result had been making data publicly available regularly.

She said Foodstuffs South Island did not publicly report their retail crime data.

Rapana was remanded on bail for sentencing in July with a condition that she not enter any Countdown/Woolworths supermarkets.

By Tracy Neal
Open Justice multimedia journalist