Brazen thieves have barged and smashed their way into a Gateshead business three times in recent weeks, stealing hundreds of packets of cigarettes.
The Shell service station on Oxford Street was targeted twice in two days this week, in the early hours of Tuesday and Wednesday, with the bandits smashing the glass front door of the business during the second raid.
It came after a group of five people – who appear to be juveniles – broke into the servo, which doubles as a small grocery store, on April 24 and stole cigarettes, lollies and soft drinks.
The store was closed for the night on all three occasions, so no staff members were threatened or hurt. But the chain of events has prompted business owner Ravi Babu-Iconerv to fortify the premises to avoid further stock losses and try to stave off rising insurance costs.
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Mr Babu-Iconerv, who has owned the business for a year, said unsuccessful attempts had been made to get into the store’s safes, but thieves appeared mainly focused on taking cigarettes.
He said tobacco products were attractive targets for thieves given their value on the black market because of rising retail prices – he described tobacco as “black gold”. It’s estimated more than 400 packets of cigarettes were taken during the three robberies.
The lost stock was covered by insurance, but Mr Babu-Iconerv said he faced thousands of dollars in costs for repairs, climbing insurance premiums and efforts to beef up security.
“Two days in a row… I can’t tell you how hard [the situation is],” he said.
“I have to look after my staff – everyone here – I have to fix everything. I haven’t had sleep the past two days.
“[Insurance] is covering, but we are losing on excess. Thousands of dollars, it will change.
“Maybe some staff will become afraid of working here because this is happening continuously.”
All three incidents were recorded on the store’s several CCTV cameras – footage which has been handed over to investigators. Footage of the first raid shows five thieves wearing face coverings kicking in the store’s front door to get inside.
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Video of the second incident shows two men, with their faces covered, barging into the store in the same manner.
Footage of the final incident shows two bandits fitting a similar description unsuccessfully trying to barge the door off its tracks, before one of the thieves pulls out a hammer and shatters the entire glass panel with a single stroke.
Lake Macquarie police are appealing for information as to who was behind the break-ins. They are urging anyone who is offered black market cigarettes to contact investigators.
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