Fire returns crime family to public eye
The Harris family of Hornby, part of the Christchurch crime scene for a generation, has been quiet in recent years— until this week’s fire at a family residence. MARTIN VAN BEYNEN reports.
If Christchurch had a crime family, it was the Harris brothers of Hillmorton; during the late 1980s and ’90s anyway.
Many Christchurch families are known to the police for their criminal tendencies but they are often broods with a background of family chaos and dysfunction.
The Harris boys and their partners have had their share of problems but what set them apart was a cohesiveness as a family and a regard for family responsibilities. They are also believed to have tried to steer their upcoming generation away from crime and violence.
Over the past five years, brothers Paul, Darryl, Ricki and Russell Harris, now all in their 40s, have fought among themselves, sometimes viciously in pursuit of various vendettas, but their loyalty to each other remains strong.
At present, there appears to be a dispute between Paul, Darryl and Ricki Harris over the sale of a house they own jointly in Brixton Street, Islington.
When it went up in flames on Thursday, some would have seen it as a metaphor for the once close-knit family disintegrating under the strains of living life outside the gang structure. Others close to the family say the latest development is simply par for the course.
What led the Harris brothers into crime is not clear, but their childhood was hardly idyllic. Their mother died in 1981 and their stepfather was violent and anti-social.
The boys went to live with their natural father, who ran a circus, apparently adopting the character of Chuckles the Clown. Reared among the sideshows, the Harris brothers lived a nomadic lifestyle and received little schooling, which perhaps explains their difficulties with reading and writing.
Eventually they settled in Neil Road, Hornby, becoming a menace in the district and wellknown to everybody.
While the tag ‘‘crime family’’ gives off a seedy sort of glamour, the Harris brothers, when they led their gang, were at the centre of some brutal activities.
In 1990, a seaman known to the familywas set upon with a baseball bat in broad daylight as he walked along Halswell Road. Apparently frustrated at the ineffectiveway one of the group was wielding the bat, Ricki Harris allegedly grabbed it and broke the man’s kneecaps.
He was subsequently discharged after a judge found the police’s failure to put Ricki Harris in an identification parade made the identification of Harris unreliable.
In July 1991, Ricki, Paul and Darryl Harris and other gang members were jailed for the shooting of two Highway 61 gang members as they arrived at their periodic detention (now community work) centre. Neither of the two received lifethreatening injuries.
According to a High Court judge, the gangwas also not above retaliating against police or witnesses. In 1990, a 32-yearold sandblaster with strong family values but an abiding detestation of the police entered the picture.
Neil Raymond Swain torched the house of a police officer, bombed the Sydenham police station and burnt down another house after blindfolding and removing the occupants and their pets.
The officers and witnesses targeted were all connected with the prosecution of Harris gang members for the shooting of the Highway 61 members.
In 1992, a group of Harris gang members, including a dangerous hothead called Carl Rolander, whowas later to shoot himself, abducted a supermarket manager from his home to force him to open the store’s safe.
The Harris gang converted in 1994 to a chapter of the Road Knights gang, which has long been strong in such towns as Invercargill and Timaru. A clubhouse in Halswellwas bought with the proceeds, according to street talk, of a Lotto win by Darryl Harris’s wife, Marcia.
After their release from prison in the mid-1990s, the Harris brothers became strangers to the courts. One theory was they were now smart enough to get younger try-hards to do any dirty work and cop the penalties.
Gangs at that time also realised it was better for business if they kept a lowprofile and avoided skirmishes that involved the public and inevitably brought calls for their eradication.
This did not stop some of the next generation of Harrises getting into the old family business, however. Rustie Harris, then 18, the son of Russell Harris, was jailed in 1996 for a drive-by shooting in Riccarton.
The police moved on the gang again in 1998. Using new anti-gang legislation passed in 1997, the police applied for and were granted an order banning Paul, Darryl and Ricki Harris from associatingwith each other.
Not much has been heard from the Harris brothers since. Insiders say they have been up to their old tricks but are just more cunning about it.
Darryl Harris is the undisputed leader of the group, with a reputation as being a very staunch man. His martial arts abilities make him a formidable and feared adversary.
Russell Harris, it is said, has more or less retired, and Ricki Harris, judging by his new Chrysler car, continues to do well.
By2005, various rifts broke out in the Christchurch chapter of the Road Knights and the Harris brothers and the motorcycle gang parted company. Some affiliations remain but the clubhouse and other properties were sold.
It looked as though the Harris boys had opted for the quiet life. But the name lives on and while the house blazed this week, many memories, not all pleasant, of the Harris brothers were reignited.
Darryl Harris was approached for comment, but a message sent to The Press said he would talk only if a cheque was attached.
It is said Darryl Harris always was the businessman.