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Judge slams ‘well-practised thief’ for involving young children in shoplifting

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Reece Whatarau, his partner, two other adults and two children were involved in the theft of more than $2000 worth of property from Raglan Surf Emporium in February last year. Photo / Facebook

A man dubbed a ‘well-practised thief’ by a judge has been slammed for involving young children in an orchestrated theft from a Raglan surf shop.

And Judge Tini Clark did not mince her words after reading a restorative justice report – where Reece Whatarau met with his victims – telling him his comments were “manipulative”, and he appeared to have only attended to get a discount on his sentence.

He tried to tell the victims, representatives from the Surf Emporium, that he did not plan to steal anything from the shop when he and five others, including two children, went in about 4.50pm on February 28 last year, stating it was “unexpected” and “unplanned”.

“It is shameful offending Mr Whatarau and I cannot reiterate that enough,” Judge Clark told him during sentencing on a charge of theft over $1000 in the Hamilton District Court on Friday.

“Not only because children have inadvertently become involved in what adults have decided to do but because of the long-term impacts that type of behaviour has.”

The group, which also included his partner, and two other adults, went into the store at 4.50pm and began browsing and appeared to have been shopping.

After about 40 minutes, they congregated near the front door and “hastily left” carrying a significant number of items and stock valued at $2149.58.

Judge Clark said it was aggravating that the children were present and were then seen on CCTV stopping to pick up items as the group fled from the shop.

“I have easily come to the view that this was an orchestrated shoplifting event.

“Quite different from the explanation that Mr Whatarau has given to the victims of his offending at the restorative justice conference [RJ] and I do not accept the explanation provided which was essentially that this was something that Mr Whatarau was not expecting, that he was thinking of purchasing items but when others ran, he ran as well.”

Leading the judge to that opinion was the spree of other offences he committed over a four-week period in February last year which he was sentenced for in December last year to 28 months’ jail.

The spree began on February 7 with a theft from a car, and continued sporadically over days with thefts of cars, a motorbike, property, attempts to steal vehicles, and other thefts.

It came to a halt on March 2 with another motor vehicle theft.

Judge Clark said she wanted to detail the information as it wouldn’t have been available to those who attended the RJ conference.

“That puts into context, in my view, what happened in Raglan on the 28th of February and I easily come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated offending.

“The reason that is so important to reiterate my view is because, of course, what Mr Whatarau was asking for was some consideration of his attendance at the RJ conference.

“I detected absolutely no contrition or remorse from Mr Whatarau for all of these offences.

“I find the attendance at RJ with your explanations to have been manipulative to some extent in terms of an attempt to turn the hand of the court in relation to sentencing … I don’t consider that your explanations have been in any way genuine.

“I stop short of considering that the child, who would have been an 8-year-old, as opposed to the 4-year-old, had been deliberately taken to participate in this shameful behaviour but nonetheless she has participated simply because of her presence there and I wholeheartedly condemn the fact that this type of behaviour occurred within the presence of children, and with the help of children, who will have had no option but to be where they had been taken.”

He was still relatively young and now needed to change, she said.

“Your family needs to be properly supported, not by criminal activity but by you getting a job and becoming a useful member of the community.

“You seem to have been a well-practised thief but going forward if you are to avoid being sent back to prison you will have to make some better choices for yourself.”

Judge Clark jailed him for 12 months, but it would be concurrent with his 28-month term, meaning he would soon be eligible for parole.

However, the judge said she would include her sentencing notes for the parole board to consider before releasing him.

She declined to issue a reparation order as there was no “realistic” prospect of the victims being paid back.

Belinda Feek is an Open Justice reporter based in Waikato. She has worked at NZME for nine years and been a journalist for 20.

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