Tsunami alert burglaries ‘no coincidence’ – judge

A judge has rejected burglar Michael Taui Wetere’s claim that it was “coincidence” that he burgled Christchurch businesses in the hours after the Kaikoura earthquake.

Wetere, 35, a Woolston photographer, carried out three burglaries while police were involved in tsunami alert evacuations.

While the police were involved keeping people safe in the eastern suburbs, Wetere struck on the other side of the city.

“I don’t accept that this offending after the Kaikoura earthquake was simply a coincidence,” said Judge Stephen O’Driscoll. “I find the victims were vulnerable.”

Crown prosecutor Mitchell McClenaghan told the court: “The offender used this natural disaster as an opportunity to commit the burglaries against a community that was still recovering from the 2011 earthquake.”

Defence counsel Margaret Smyth had argued that there was a “tension” between premeditation and opportunism, since one burglary had occurred only minutes after the quake. She said it had been coincidental.

The three burglaries were among 11 charges Wetere admitted in the Christchurch District Court in June, when he was remanded in custody for sentencing today.

He admitted a total of eight burglaries, receiving stolen property, possession of tools for committing burglaries, and unlawfully taking a car that was used in some of the burglaries. Losses and damage totalled $73,962 for Christchurch householders and businesses.

Wetere proved to be an inept burglar, injuring himself and leaving blood spots which led to his DNA being analysed at two crime scenes, throwing away a cigarette packet with his fingerprints at another break-in, and leaving his fingerprints at two other burglaries.

A Subaru station wagon was taken from a home in Bishopdale on the evening of November 13, 2016 – just hours before the Kaikoura earthquake which struck at 12.03am on November 14.

Seven minutes after the quake, the station wagon was used by two offenders who broke into a dairy in Waltham. The were disturbed by security guards at Lancaster Park nearby, and ran off and got into the vehicle. The guard got the registration number. One of the burglars dropped a till and cigarettes as they fled.

At 12.50am, burglars broke into a service station on Port Hills Road and began breaking into the cigarettes cabinet. They had to flee empty handed when a security smoke cannon filled the shop with smoke, stopping them seeing anything. The same car was seen there.

At 1am, the doors of a dairy in Huntsbury were kicked in and two burglars took cigarettes and tobacco worth $7000. Wetere’s fingerprints were found on a drawer inside the cigarette cabinet.

Judge O’Driscoll said Wetere claimed he had carried out the burglaries because a gang had imposed a $100,000 fine on him. “It doesn’t wash with me,” he said.

He noted that Wetere had 64 previous convictions including seven burglaries. He had been jailed for three years in 2003 for burglary.

“You are clearly a slow learner. A substantial term didn’t deter you from going out and committing further offences,” said the judge.

He imposed a series of jail terms totalling five years four months, and ordered a non-parole term of half the sentence. Wetere will have to serve two years eight months before the Parole Board can begin to consider him for parole.

The judge made no reparation order because any payment by Wetere was unrealistic.

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