Gun­man tar­gets berry farm cafe

The sign out­side Ju­lians Berry Farm & Café on Fe­bru­ary 7 told the story: “Closed to­day due to armed rob­bery. Open to­mor­row.” Just in­side the en­trance, and a bul­let hole in the floor un­der­lined its grav­ity.

The Orchardist - - News - By Ali­son McCul­loch

Mon­ica and Paul Ju­lian have been run­ning the 10-hectare berry farm and café com­plex at its cur­rent site just out of Whakatane for 17 years, and in all that time there’s never been any­thing re­motely as fright­en­ing or dan­ger­ous as what hap­pened that Tues­day.

As Paul tells it, a hooded man with a gun came into the cafe around 1:20 in the af­ter­noon and de­manded money. A cus­tomer, whom Paul de­scribed as “a loyal sup­porter of the berry farm”, in­ter­vened try­ing to talk the man out of tak­ing any ac­tion, which even­tu­ally led to some push­ing. “He moved back­wards to where that gun­shot is, four me­tres or some­thing, and then a shot was fired.” Paul said the pel­lets ric­o­cheted through­out the shop, hit­ting sev­eral peo­ple, caus­ing some mi­nor in­juries. The man even­tu­ally left with­out any money. A day later, the po­lice an­nounced a 26-year-old had been taken into cus­tody and said no one else was be­ing sought.

Paul and Mon­ica were on a 30-kilo­me­tre train­ing run for an Ox­fam Trail­walker chal­lenge and ar­rived back at the café a few min­utes af­ter the man had left. Both have noth­ing but praise for the swift ac­tion of the po­lice and the calm re­sponse from their staff as well as the 60 or so cus­tomers who were in the café at the time. But what hap­pened that day has caused them to give fresh thought to staff train­ing, se­cu­rity mea­sures and hav­ing an emer­gency plan in place.


Mon­ica says in the wake of the rob­bery at­tempt, they’ll look at train­ing around about what to do and what not to do in that kind of sit­u­a­tion — things like not look­ing the per­son in the eyes to avoid an­tag­o­niz­ing them, open­ing your hands, fo­cus­ing on one piece of cloth­ing so you can help iden­tify the sus­pect to po­lice. The Ju­lians are also con­sid­er­ing in­stalling se­cu­rity cam­eras.

“We’re well drilled now on tsunamis and earth­quakes and lad­ders and burns and knives and sun­burn, wind­burn, lift­ing — all that kind of stuff,” Paul says. “None of that stuff has ac­tu­ally hap­pened, and yet a gun­man has.”

The Ju­lians point to iso­la­tion as a risk fac­tor for ru­ral or road­side busi­nesses like theirs, some­thing Mark van der Kley, of­fi­cer in charge at Whakatane Po­lice Sta­tion, agrees is an is­sue.

“It’s not quite so bad in this case, but of­ten it’s the dis­tance, it’s not just handy to us to just race out there,” Mark says. “Also I sup­pose they’ve im­me­di­ately got some get­away ar­eas.” He said in a rob­bery sit­u­a­tion, po­lice al­ways ad­vised com­ply­ing with what­ever the per­son was ask­ing for. “That’s the safest thing to do, don’t try to be the hero.”

“It’s just so rare, I can’t think of an­other one in the area,” Mark said, adding that se­cu­rity mea­sures were about us­ing com­mon sense, like not hav­ing much cash on the premises and pos­si­bly hav­ing sur­veil­lance cam­eras to iden­tify a sus­pect.

Ju­lians Berry Farm & Café is a pop­u­lar Whakatane fix­ture, open from Septem­ber to Fe­bru­ary and em­ploy­ing up to 80 peo­ple at its busiest. The Ju­lians have seven hectares at the site planted in berries, in­clud­ing straw­ber­ries, black­ber­ries, boy­sen­ber­ries, rasp­ber­ries and blue­ber­ries, which they pick fresh and sell at the café. They also make and sell ice-cream, pro­vide mini golf, an an­i­mal farm and a bas­ket­ball court.


Ru­ral crime is com­mon, but also com­monly un­der-re­ported, ac­cord­ing to Fed­er­ated Farm­ers. And while hor­ti­cul­ture hasn’t pre­vi­ously been at the fore­front of ru­ral crime preven­tion ef­forts, that’s chang­ing with the rise in re­cent years of av­o­cado thefts, par­tic­u­larly in the Bay of Plenty. A po­lice and ru­ral stake­hold­ers part­ner­ship, which was set up in 2015, re­cently in­vited Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand to join its ranks, and plans to hold a work­shop on March 7 in Katikati, the heart of av­o­cado coun­try.

Dave Flett is the Hort NZ rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the part­ner­ship, and also an av­o­cado grower and Bay of Plenty rep on the NZ Av­o­cado Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. He says the work­shop marks the start of an aware­ness rais­ing ef­fort to make sure or­chardists know what to do to pre­vent fruit thefts or deal with il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity if they sus­pect it. “What we’re try­ing to do is pre­vent it by mak­ing sure that our or­chardists have their best prac­tice in place to pro­tect them­selves and the or­chard.”

He said the po­lice were aware of the prob­lem, and last year vis­ited shops in Te Puke look­ing for stolen fruit. “It does stand out be­cause it’s not pro­fes­sion­ally picked, and if they find peo­ple do­ing this, they’re say­ing, ‘Do you re­alise you could be break­ing the law here by sell­ing stolen goods.’” Dave said if grow­ers sus­pect il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity on their or­chards, they should not try to tackle it them­selves, but should call the po­lice.

“It’s just so rare, I can’t think of an­other one in the area.” Mark van der Kley, Whakatane Po­lice

Berry Farm & Café Credit: Ju­lians

From top: Paul and Mon­ica Ju­lian at their berry farm café: Look­ing at train­ing around about what to do and what not to do in that kind of sit­u­a­tion. This sign out­side Ju­lians on the day of the at­tempted rob­bery.

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