Hostages used as human shields in brazen tote robbery

2014-04-01 00:00

ARMED robbers used punters as human shields as they tried to escape with their stolen loot taken from a betting hall next to a police station.

But their brazen attack was stopped dead in its tracks thanks to an alert waitress and a quick-thinking policewoman.

Hostages told The Witness about the harrowing experience of being used as human shields before a ferocious gun fight erupted.

At mid-morning yesterday the suspects, armed with guns, walked into Marshalls World of Sport on the ground floor of Novana Court, Tongaat, overpowered the security guard and locked the door. The betting hall was packed with about 40 people including an on-duty uniformed police officer who was placing a bet. Punters were quickly subdued and robbed of their phones and cash while the policeman was disarmed.

“It was petrifying inside,” said punter John Ozor.

“My brother and I were about to place bets when these men walked inside. They first pushed everyone into a nearby store room and made us lie on the ground. Every­one was scared,” said Ozor.

But it was employees at Crossway Corner Café, adjacent to the betting hall who, after witnessing the suspects bundle the guard inside, alerted the police.

“I phoned Lieutenant Mandy Govender at the station next door to us. She told us to lock our doors and have the gates in the centre closed,” said coffee shop manager Prem Naidoo.

Once Govender, an SAPS media liaison officer, arrived with over a dozen police officers, all the exit gates were secured.

Leopard crawling on the first floor she managed to look through Marshall’s top windows and identify the suspects.

“I informed the other officers on the scene who to look for,” said Govender.

When the suspects slowly exited the betting hall surrounded by hostages an officer shouted “get down”. All the hostages dropped to the ground, leaving the gunmen standing. One officer was grazed by a bullet while a suspect was fatally wounded on the stairs as he tried to make his way to the first floor exit.

Marshall’s KZN operations manager Gona Govender conceded the business had been robbed in the past.

“We have never had a robbery like this. A punter alerted us and we alerted our security Reaction Unit. The officer placing a bet inside also managed to contact the police. We will offer counselling to our staff,” said Govender.

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