Pub manager staged robberies

The duty manager at a central Christchurch bar arranged for it to be robbed twice, and then carried out an armed robbery at a hotel in Dunedin.

The knife-armed robbers got away with a total of $92,707.

Joanne Francis Smith, now unemployed, is in custody after pleading guilty to three armed robbery charges at the Christchurch District Court today.

Judge David Saunders remanded her for sentencing on May 23. He ordered a pre-sentence report, and a reparation report.

However, defence counsel Paul Johnson said Smith had “no ability to pay”.

Smith, 47, was employed as the duty manager of The Fitz Sports Bar in Cashel Street. She had to close the bar at closing time, removing cash trays from the registers, removing money from the poker machines, and recording the balances as she secured the cash in the office safe.

On July 31, 2017, the Crown says she told a co-offender that she would put the money in the safe once the patrons had left. She and another staff member would then go to the outdoor courtyard for a cigarette.

Smith seated herself in the outdoor area, so that she was facing the bar and the victim was sitting across the table with her back to the premises. Smith then sent a message to the co-offender, who jumped the fence and held a knife to the other woman’s throat. He demanded that she “give me the money”.

Smith pretended to be a victim, acting fearful, scared and unaware of what was happening.

The co-offender escorted the women to the office where Smith opened the safe. The women then loaded a bag with $38,000 cash. The co-offender removed Smith’s cellphone before he ran to a waiting car.

In October, she had the job of opening the same bar in the morning. She was required to lock the door after going inside, while she completed administrative tasks.

On October 29, she had organised with an unknown man to arrive soon after her, to rob the place. He wore high-visibility overalls, industrial concreting gumboots, industrial gloves and a hard hat with earmuffs. He wore a black scarf over his face and held a large carving knife.

She went to the bar, unlocked the door and went inside with another staff member. Twenty-five minutes later the co-offender arrived and went in through an unlocked side door.

He made Smith and the other staff member lie on the floor. Smith played along, pretending to be a victim.

The co-offender then made them remove cash from the tills and put it into the bag he had provided. He then took carkeys and cellphones and left with $48,000 in Smith’s car.

On December 21, Smith went to Dunedin and met two others, a man and woman. They agreed that the woman would go into the gaming section at the Law Courts Hotel, play the poker machines, and report how many staff were present. They also got her to book a room at the hotel to get the PIN code to enable entry from an external door.

She booked in, saying that she had been involved in a domestic violence incident and needed alternative accommodation.

Smith and the male offender entered the building shortly before midnight, through an open door, and went into the office area. They had their faces covered with masks and were wearing dark hooded tops. The man held a knife.

They hid under a table in the restaurant and waited for the woman victim to return to the office area. When she returned, the man held the knife near her neck, told her to open the safe and put the cash into a backpack Smith was holding.

They told the woman to go into a toilet next to the office and count to 100 before coming out. She did that, but when she came out they were still present.

She was sent back to the toilet and told to count to 1000. The robbers left with $16,707.

The police say they stopped a car being used by the Dunedin couple the next day, and found the backpack.

The robbery victim was left frightened and shaken but received no physical injuries.

Smith admitted her role, but denied having planned the robbery.

One of the alleged co-offenders is unknown, and the others have been granted name suppression in coverage of Smith’s case while their cases are dealt with in Dunedin.

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