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Victims tell of heartbreaking fallout of Whangārei man’s spree of burglaries

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Victims have told of the impact a serial burglar had on them. Photo / 123RF stock photograph

A spree of burglaries has left countless lives irreversibly altered and their sense of security shattered after a man ransacked their homes to feed his addiction.

As David Johnstone, 39, was sentenced today for his 16-month crime spree across Whangārei, his victim’s voices filled the courtroom, all speaking of the emotional wreckage he had caused.

Whangārei District Court heard that between 2021 and 2022, Johnstone hit 36 homes from Paihia to One Tree Point stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal items, including firearms that are now in the community.

All of Johnstone’s victims spoke of the shock of walking into a ransacked home, being unable to sleep and for some, having their family relationships destroyed.


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One victim, a 41-year-old father, said the burglary didn’t just steal his physical possessions. It also robbed him of time with his 14-year-old son, whom he had shared custody of, as the break-in had caused the boy to become too afraid to enter his father’s home.

David Johnstone appeared in Whangārei District Court. Photo / NZME
David Johnstone appeared in Whangārei District Court. Photo / NZME

A single mother said Johnstone took everything she had worked hard for, as well as her grandfather’s World War II memorabilia.

“My grandfather went to war, he joined the SAS, he fought hard for this country and he died in 2018,” she said in her victim impact statement.

“They were stolen and treated so disrespectfully. We feel a great loss.”


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For one man, the burglary took such an emotional toll, that his relationship of 12 years came to an end.

“My partner became a different person and we both felt uncomfortable in our own home, our bed,” he told the court.

“This all broke me, my partner was no longer the same. I became depressed, I was just trying to do better for us than what we had growing up.

“Now a child doesn’t have a chance to have their parents together.”

The court heard Johnstone’s history of burglarising dated back to 2002, but Judge Gene Tomlinson said his latest offending, fuelled by an addiction to methamphetamine, was the worst.

“The shock of walking into a house and seeing the house trashed is indescribable,” the judge said.

“Every time, people’s lives are impacted by the selfishness of this addiction and the selfishness of burglary.”

In sentencing Johnstone, Judge Tomlinson said the summary of his offending was too long to read.

“It goes for 30 pages.”

However, since being in custody Johnstone has made significant strides to turn his life around, the judge acknowledged.


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In jailing him for five years, he encouraged Johnstone to continue accepting the help he needed while behind bars.

“I hope we don’t see each other again, unless it’s in the street and you can give me a kia ora and tell me it’s done.”

Shannon Pitman is a Whangārei based reporter for Open Justice covering courts in the Te Tai Tokerau region. She is of Ngāpuhi/ Ngāti Pūkenga descent and has worked in digital media for the past five years. She joined NZME in 2023.

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