Fears as armed gang targets bars

Police fear someone will be shot dead as an armed gang has begun targeting Auckland bars in a series of brazen hold ups during peak evening hours.

Five bars and restaurants, all in eastern Auckland suburbs, have been targeted over the last two months scoring the gang thousands of dollars.

The group are heavily armed with pistols, rifles, screwdrivers, hammers and knives.Police say they have a hallmark approach of almost casual attitude as they coolly threaten bar staff and walk off with the loot.

It is a worrying reminder of a spree of hold ups in 2002 when another group committed 12 armed robberies during six months in east and south Auckland during which pizza worker Marcus Doig and bank teller John Vaughan were fatally shot.

Ese Junior Faleali'i, 18 at the time, was jailed for those killings after pleading guilty to murder.

Police said the current hold ups were of particular concern because the establishments were being held up at peak times towards the end of the night.

Most recently O'Hagan's Irish Bar was robbed at 10pm on November 20.

''They're targeting bars when patrons are in there,'' said detective sergeant Dave Lynch.

''It's only going to take someone to challenge them and anything could happen.''

Another worry for police is the way the group operates.

Victims have described them as ''well spoken'' and ''relaxed''.

One bartender recounted to police what was said when they walked in and placed a bag in front of him.

''You know what to do. Just the cash,'' the offender said, followed by ''thank you for your co-operation'' as they left.

Most of the robberies have followed a similar pattern.

The group of three or four steal a car, which is used as the get-away vehicle, and dumped shortly after the offending.

One man enters the bar and asks for the money, while his associates make sure the patrons do not intervene.They wear hoodies and bandanas to cover their faces and despite plenty of CCTV footage, there have been few opportunities for police to establish their identities.

Victims have described them as Maori or Pacific Islander, one muscular in his 20s or early 30s the other younger and thinner; both under six feet tall.

Police are urging any residents in the area to report suspicious behaviour immediately to assist with what they are calling Operation Chevon.

Anyone with information on the five aggravated robberies should contact Counties Manukau Police 09 261 1300 or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111