Brazen mall jewellery heist

2016-12-07 10:07
 Liberty Midlands Mall security on Tuesday cordoned off the area outside Mayuri’s Jewellers after five men held up store employees at gunpoint, making off with jewellery and cash. INSET: CCTV footage of the getaway vehicle used by armed men who held up Mayuri’s Jewellers employees at gunpoint at the Liberty Midlands Mall on Tuesday.

Liberty Midlands Mall security on Tuesday cordoned off the area outside Mayuri’s Jewellers after five men held up store employees at gunpoint, making off with jewellery and cash. INSET: CCTV footage of the getaway vehicle used by armed men who held up Mayuri’s Jewellers employees at gunpoint at the Liberty Midlands Mall on Tuesday. (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - Police are on the hunt for a gang of armed men who robbed a jewellery store at the Liberty Midlands Mall on Tuesday.

The mall erupted into a frenzy when the men held Mayuri’s Jewellers staff at gunpoint before ransacking the shelves and the store’s safe.

Although police put the number of the men involved in the heist at five, Liberty Mall said the gang numbered four.

They fled from the mall with jewellery and cash in a posh white Audi that was later found abandoned at Cascades shopping mall’s undercover parking.

The Witness can reveal that the getaway vehicle was stolen during a hijacking in Wentworth, Durban, in October this year.

Fingers have since been pointed at the Liberty Midlands Mall’s security contingent, with many detailing flaws in security at the centre’s access points.

This is not the first time this year that the mall or the jewellery franchise has been struck by armed robbers.

In February this year, a five-man armed gang held two cashiers at gunpoint at the Mayuri’s Jewellers in the Beejay Centre on Chota Motala Road. The men were wearing balaclavas and fired shots before escaping with about R300 000 in jewellery and R40 000 cash.

In April, five men also wearing caps and balaclavas engaged in a fierce gunbattle with a security guard at the Liberty Midlands Mall after they robbed the NWJ store. The gang casually exited the parking lot through the boom gates.

The same number of robbers displaying the same modus operandi struck yesterday. It is believed the men entered the mall before 9 am, gaining access to the rear staff parking from where they then entered the building.

A police source said the men loitered around the mall for a few minutes, and even ambled into another jewellery store near Mayuri’s before striking.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said five men attacked staff as they opened the store.

It is believed the gang forced staff members, all of whom were women, onto the floor while they broke open the shelves and display cabinets. It is believed one staff member was forced to the back of the store to open the safe.

The men used a large bag and a trolley to haul their loot out via a fire exit near the store before placing the stolen items in their getaway vehicle parked nearby. They then sped off, leaving the mall through the boom gates.

The entire incident lasted no more than a few minutes.

The mall was brought to a halt, with all entrances closed to customers as officers, some of whom were on bikes, raced through the passages in search of the gang.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, an eyewitness who works at a nearby store said he saw a “short man” walking past his door dressed in a hooded jacket and a mask.

The eyewitness said he thought the man looked suspicious, and when he went closer to inspect, he saw two other men walking into Mayuri’s.

“We stood across from the shop [Mayuri’s] and saw that the men were emptying the jewellery into a trolley while the shop assistants were in the store,” he said.

“We ran back to our shop and I chased my employees to the back, shouting for them to get out of sight. As I turned, I saw a tall man walking past with a huge gun in his hand and he looked at me in the eye”.

Another eyewitness working at a kiosk near the jewellery store said they were too afraid to intervene.

“They [the robbers] were in and out in about five minutes. It was very quick,” he said.

“A man carrying a gun came to us and instructed us to face the other direction and not to look at them. The woman I work with was so scared so I told her to lie on the floor.”

When The Witness arrived at the mall on Tuesday, daily operations seemed to be running smoothly, with shoppers strolling past as police inspected the crime scene.

A man who was pacing at the entrance of the store said his wife was an employee at Mayuri’s and that he had rushed to the mall from their home when his friend told him about the robbery.

When his wife came out of the store, escorted by a guard, he asked her how she was and she started crying, sobbing into his chest as he wrapped his arms around her.

In a statement, mall general manager Muhammad Varachia said four men robbed the jewellery store, not five.

“The safety and security of shoppers and tenants is of the utmost importance to Liberty Midlands Mall centre management and we are working with the police to assist with the investigation,” Varachia said.

Numerous attempts to contact Mayuri’s Jewellers management for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

No arrests have been made thus far and no one was injured during the ordeal.

Guard ‘walked right by’ as shop was ransacked

Pietermaritzburg resident Natasha van der Westhuizen, who was doing some early morning shopping on Tuesday, came face to face with one of the robbers and, without realising what was going on, shouted at him for bumping into her.

Van Der Westhuizen said she was looking at jewellery through the window at SD Pather when she turned around to head to Mayuri’s.
Oblivious, Van Der Westhuizen said a man hauling a large bag across the floor bumped into her and she shouted at him to watch where he was going.

“I thought the store was moving premises. I wondered why they were doing it in such 
a hurry. The last thing you think is that there is a robbery in front of you. When I saw the guns I realised,” she said.
“They had two sacks and trolley filled. They really cleaned out the store. By the looks on their faces they had a purpose and nothing was going to stop them”.

Van der Westhuizen said she froze after she realised what was going on.

“One of the staff members came out as white as a ghost and began sobbing. She said they were pressing the panic buttons but nobody came. She told me while the robbery was happening a guard walked right past the shop and the doors were open.”

Access control toilet hitch

Following Tuesday’s armed robbery at the Liberty Midlands Mall, employees at various stores questioned how the gang gained access to the staff and delivery parking space at the rear of the building.

They said public access to that area was recently closed when the third phase of the mall upgrade began about a month ago.

“The only way we can get into that parking is if we have a ticket which is like an access card. If we do not, we have to buzz the operator who has access to a camera and explain who we are and why we want access,” one staff member said.

“You either need an access card, a parking card or permission from security to enter.”

Staff members said they heard rumours that the security guard stationed at the boom gate to the rear entrance was “in the toilet” when the robbers entered.

Malls aware of dangers,  have more security

Many shopping centres have beefed up their security following a spate of recent business robberies in the city.

A few hours after the Liberty Midlands Mall robbery on Tuesday, the white Audi getaway vehicle was recovered by police in the undercover parking of Cascades shopping centre in Montrose.

Public Relations Officer for Cascades Lifestyle Centre, Viv Quann, said they were very impressed with how quickly their security located the getaway car in the new basement parking after the vehicle details had been circulated.

“Cascades security has been doubled for the festive season. The tenants and security are on high alert,” said Quann.

Northway Mall Centre manager, Dennis Govender, said they were not taking any chances.

“Extra precautions have been put in place to ensure safety during the festive season. Extra security has been organized,” said Govender.

Manager of Brookside Mall, Duncan Momple, said they were aware of all the recent robberies and are very concerned. As a result, they have hired additional security guards.

“We also use social media to communicate with other shopping centres and businesses in and around the city in order to share information and security measures, thus insuring that we are not victims of the recent outbreaks of break-ins,” said Momple.

'I could see this coming'

Users took to social media on Tuesday to comment on the breaking news on The Witness Facebook page about the armed robbery yesterday.

Coetzee Pather said: “The mall is not security tight. I gained entrance once at the third entry point and drove around the mall and came to the undercover parking. Then went to the reception area and got a ticket. My thoughts at that moment, so easy for criminals to enter the mall, and here is a robbery.”

Gilda Findlay said: “My daughter is there! Apparently an armed robbery at a Jewellery Store!! Cops riding their bikes in the mall looking for the suspects. Gates closed - no entry! Hope no-one got hurt!!!

Tatiana Wickham said : Sadly, I could see this was coming. Just a few weeks ago walking out the Mall, there were 2 guys walking out in front of us with long knives that they carry in a leather thing. We told Security and they just looked at us. Those same 2 guys walked right past him. Hope everyone is safe

Cheiz-leigh Naidoo said: This is the very same car that I had reported to the police just this week that I had seen driving in and out of our road rather slowly.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  crime

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