Hell in St Helena

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Bandits ran rampant in St Helena last week, striking three business places over a four-day period and making off with thousands of dollars in cash and other valuables.
However, business owners and residents admitted yesterday that these attacks by bandits are not a new trend. Rather, they say recent development within the community has attracted the criminal element, who have been targeting business places and random individuals alike.
St Helena has moved from being a sleepy village to a bustling business area in recent years. With this development have come the criminals. Residents and business owners are now calling on the police to also increase their strength in the area to match the influx.
During the recent spate of robberies last week, the first to take place on the mile-long stretch was on Monday at 11.15 am. Two gunmen entered Pro Digital Wholesalers and tied up the male staff member on duty before they stole telephones and other electronic items. The haul was valued at $40,000.
Yesterday, Pro Digital owner Richard Le Maitre said the situation in St Helena has become “scary”. This is the second time his business place has been robbed since it recently relocated.
It was previously located at the St Helena junction but was relocated because they were robbed several times there.
Le Maitre said he had put several security measures in place to try and thwart would-be criminals, including installing security cameras. There is also a sign on the door advising that persons wearing caps would not be allowed entry in.
Following the attack on Pro Digital, on Wednesday night three bandits robbed the nearby Royal Castle outlet, which is obliquely opposite Pro Digital. According to reports, around 7 pm the gunmen announced a hold-up at the fast food outlet, took the cash register drawer and escaped with an undisclosed sum of money. The following night (Thursday), the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet located at the St Helena junction was targeted. Around 9.05 pm, two gunmen entered the restaurant, jumped over the counter, pointed a firearm at the cashier and announced a robbery. They escaped with a quantity of cash from the vault and the cash register.
All three business places are on the major road servicing the community.
Business owner Lorna Nurse, 76, who operates a Bmobile outlet in the area, is no stranger to the rising crime there. Nurse said she has been operating there for the past 14 years but crime really started to rise in the last five years.
Around 2 am one day in February was the last time Nurse experienced a break-in. Bandits are so emboldened they are not even using stealth any more, she said.
“They used a pickaxe to break in the front door. When we came in the morning all that was left were the tiles on the floor,” Nurse said.
Nurse has alarm systems and sensors installed. Yesterday, she spoke to the Sunday Guardian from behind a heavily burglar- proofed, cage-like structure.
The entire establishment is now fortified because of the robberies.
Nurse said she runs has been robbed four times and like Le Maitre, she changed location within the area because she was being robbed regularly. The worst attack was when one of her female workers was alone and gunmen entered and tied her up while they ransacked the place.
“That really rocked me because she is just a young woman trying to make ends meet, coming to work and being placed in this kind of situation. It is not right,” Nurse said.
Nurse believes the only reason she was spared last week was because she was out of stock of new phones.
“It’s really bad. I’m sure every business in this area has been affected by crime in one way or another,” she said.
All of the businesses the Sunday Guardian spoke to had their own tales about the criminal element.
Nurse was in praise of the Las Lomas police who she said has always responded in a timely fashion to her plights. She, however, called for more police patrols in the community.
One of the things that makes St Helena such an easy target for the criminals is that they have several escape routes to several parts of the country.
Vinny Mohammed, of M&M Poultry, said while his business has only been targeted by shoplifters he knows other businesses have been affected by gun-toting bandits.
“We have cameras in place and still they just steal without any care,” he said.
But the crime is not limited to the businesses.
Visham Khodai said he walked out of his home to get something from a nearby store one evening about three years ago and was greeted by a gunman on the major road.
“It was an early evening after work and I walked out and this man pointed a gun in my face asking for money,” Khodai said.
Khodai said when he saw the gun he fell backwards and somehow the gunman ran off. Khodai thanked God for that.
“I see life-changing here, it was a quiet community and now it has become a target for thieves. This place is becoming hell,” he said adding he is now sceptical about leaving his house after dark.

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