25 November 2022

What to do when your store is held up by armed thieves - can you fight back?

| James Coleman
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Ajijo Grocery and Convenience Store

A CCTV image of a would-be thief breaking into Ajijo Grocery and Convenience Store, Coombs. Photo: Ajijo, Facebook.

Two different Canberra businesses were allegedly held up at hatchet-point before lunchtime last Sunday by an assailant demanding cash from the till.

The 30-year-old Wanniassa man ended up in handcuffs minutes after the second attempt, and then before court the next day.

But chances are, despite the ACT having a relatively low property crime-rate on the whole, many store and home-owners are now having “what if” thoughts.

What should you do if someone waves a weapon in your face and demands your wallet, keys or other precious personal items?

It became more than hypothetical for one Manuka Newsagency staff member.

Owner Matt Nobbs wasn’t there at 6:20 am on Sunday 20 November, when a man, allegedly armed with a small hatchet, approached the counter and demanded money from the till and then the safe.

“There’s nothing much in there at that time in the morning,” Matt said. “The staff member complied before he essentially told the man to p— off, and he did.”

All up, Matt says about $40 was taken. He says nothing like this has ever happened before during his time at the newsagency.

READ ALSO Man who rode Civic bus with fake gun on his hip told, ‘We don’t live in America’

About three hours later, a man – also armed with a small hatchet – allegedly held up the Gowrie IGA supermarket with similar demands. He fled the scene on foot with a sum of cash but didn’t get far.

Several members of the public at a nearby cafe gave chase and held him down until police arrived.

The man was arrested and taken to the ACT Magistrate’s Court the next day, charged with a string of aggravated robberies, including at Manuka, Gowrie, and one at the Kambah IGA the previous weekend.

Manuka Newsagency

Manuka Newsagency. Photo: Manuka Newsagency.

So what’s the police advice in these situations?

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) say it all starts with prevention. Practical methods include discrete handling of cash, regular banking, alarm systems, security cameras, adequate lighting, and insurance cover.

These are normally enough to dissuade most opportunistic thieves.

But in the event an armed offender barges into your store or home anyway, police advise treating them as dangerous, as some may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and “may react in an unpredictable way”.

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“Obey the offender’s instructions, but do only what you are told and nothing more – do not volunteer any information,” a spokesperson said.

“Keep your distance from the offender. When asked to hand over the money, place it on the counter and take a step back. Keep your hands in sight at all times. If you need to move your hands out of the offender’s sight, ask for permission and await approval.

“Be deliberate in your actions. If you are ordered to hand money to the offender, start with lower denomination notes.”

What about defence of property and person?

Law Group founder and director Andrew Byrnes says if a store or homeowner is able to convince a court that the use of force on a trespasser was a “reasonable response”, it becomes self-defence.

“When you raise self-defence, it is then for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person protecting their property wasn’t engaging in self-defence,” he says.


Andrew Byrnes, Criminal Lawyer at Andrew Byrnes Law Group. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

In other words, you can use an appropriate level of threat or force to resist an offender, but go overboard with it and you too could face assault or murder charges. Tread with care.

In any case, there are a few “must-do’s”.

Police recommend not pursuing the offender when they leave, instead using the opportunity to “make as many observations as you can, including direction and method of departure”.

Always phone police first on triple zero (000) and management second, prepared to list off as many observations and details as you can.

Once that’s done, immediately close the store and isolate any areas where the offender stood, touched, spat or bled. Ask any witnesses to stay on-site until the police can take their statements.

For more detailed information on reducing business burglaries, read the ‘Armed Robbery – Prevention and Response’ factsheet by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

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