Midlands maul

2011-12-08 00:00

THE alleged failure by the police and security guards to prevent suspected gang violence from breaking out at the Liberty Midlands Mall on Tuesday has raised concerns about the safety and security of the patrons there.

On Tuesday evening an altercation erupted between scores of youths at the mall’s entrance. A youth aged 17 was stabbed in the arm. The perpetrator fled into the mall.

Video footage that a patron took with a cellphone shows the chaos that lasted for more than 30 minutes at the front of the main entrance of the mall.

It shows the victim walking around and yelling, his arm bandaged with a T-shirt, blood on the floor and other patrons watching the spectacle. Among the spectators were four police officers, some with their arms folded.

A crowd of spectators gathered outside the entrance while security guards kept an eye on the curious onlookers.

Paul Gaydon (49) of Pelham, a bystander who filmed the incident on his cellphone, alleged that the fight was between two rival gangs, but this could not be independently verified.

He said he and other patrons “were shocked by the conduct of the police as they had completely ignored the gravity of the situation”.

“The four of them just stood there with their arms folded while another young man had to wrap a T-shirt around the arm of the victim to prevent excessive bleeding.

“These police did not bother to get a first-aid kit and failed to call an ambulance.

“A gentleman standing next to me had to walk all the way to his car to collect a first-aid kit and help the young man.

“When I asked the security officials at the mall where their first-aid kit was, they told me it was inside.”

Gaydon said the police failed to take control of the situation. He had expected them to separate the offender and the victim.

“They said that because the incident had happened at the apron of the front entrance of the mall it was not their problem.

“They failed to realise that the situation could have gone very bad quickly, as there were many excited youths there, and if any of them had decided to produce knives the situation could have been very bad.”

Gaydon said that at one point the mall security apprehended the alleged perpetrator and brought him out to the foyer. There another scuffle almost broke out, with youths chasing each other towards Sanctuary Road with some police officers running after them.

He said the mall spent much time policing smokers rather than dealing with problems.

“There was one guy from the mall security and he seemed to be trying, but he was overwhelmed or just inexperienced. The problem is if they catch you smoking, they throw you out, and yet a gang fight was going on in their front door. As the fight continued, another gentleman standing next to me tried to light a cigarette and the mall security quickly chucked him out.”

Gaydon said he is concerned that the incident happened in the most prominent place in Pietermaritzburg. “If I had young kids, I would not be comfortable with them going there because I would not be sure if they were safe.”

An eyewitness who wanted to remain anonymous said she witnessed the incident with her small daughter. “I had to block my daughter’s ears and eyes because I didn’t want her to see what was happening”. The 17-year-old victim was shouting and swearing loudly.

“When we got home my daughter asked me why there were ‘baddies at the mall’. A mall is a place where you’d expect to be safe. It’s the last place you’d expect to see that,” the mother said.

Police Response

POLICE spokesperson Joey Jeevan said the police arrived at the scene and found about 40 people who had been involved in an altercation, screaming abuse.

The police immediately dispersed the crowd.

Jeevan said they contacted emergency services for the teenager. While waiting for the ambulance the teenager was helped by a patron at the mall. He was taken to Northdale Hospital.

The police arrested a man who was found with a knife and have charged him with possession of a dangerous weapon.

Jeevan dismissed allegations that the police were standing idly by.

“The police got there after the fight; they were not standing around, but were waiting for emergency services.”

She said the allegations were brought to the attention of police management and were being investigated.

She said disciplinary action would be taken if necessary. If people believe that the police are not doing what they should in such a situation, they should call 10111 to report the matter or effect a citizen’s arrest, if they are able to, and take the suspect to the nearest police station.

Mall's Response

THE Midlands Liberty Mall centre manager, Cassy Fourie, promised that security will be beefed up following the alleged stabbing incident.

She said: “The centre takes any threats to the safety of its shoppers and tenants extremely seriously and behaviour of this nature is not tolerated. Shoppers and tenants should be assured that security is a top priority at the mall.”

Fourie said the emergency services were immediately called to the scene. “Liberty Midlands Mall have personnel trained in first aid on site at all times. However, in this instance a member of the public had already begun treatment to the individual.”

She said the management is unable to confirm the cause of the altercation, but is working closely with the police “to ensure that those involved are identified, apprehended and banned from the mall”. She said the centre will employ additional security guards who will be on site for the duration of the festive season, which is the mall’s policy each year.

Fourie said shoppers with immediate concerns should call the centre management at 033 341 9570. People who can help the police in their investigation should call Warrant Officer Farouk Khan at 079 500 0131.

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