Soldier accosted while collecting for Poppy Day

Author
Scott Yeoman, NZ Herald,
Section
National,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 24 April 2018, 10:11PM

A New Zealand soldier collecting donations for Poppy Day has been accosted by a man in Tauranga's Red Square.

The incident on Spring St in the CBD on Friday, captured on video, showed a man yelling at one of three soldiers in uniform, with his fingers in the soldier's face.

One man who worked in the area, but did not want to be identified, said the man was "going head-to-head, toe-to-toe" with soldiers "doing their bit for the Anzacs".

"He was trying to incite a fight, it was clear that that's what he wanted to develop and the military guys wouldn't take the bait."

The witness said a member of the public stepped in and told the man to leave the soldiers alone.

The three soldiers remain composed in the video and one of them can be heard saying "mate, just calm down eh".

A New Zealand Defence Force spokesman said the altercation was not typical of the response its servicemen and women received while collecting donations on Poppy Day.

"We recognise that people have a right to voice their opinion, as long as it's done in a peaceful manner.

"We are pleased that in this situation the person's anger was defused by the calmness displayed by the soldier, who remained professional throughout."

The spokesman said the Defence Force was proud to collect for Poppy Day in support of "the fantastic work done for the veteran community by the RSA".

Meagan Holmes, Tauranga City Council's manager of community development, said the council received a complaint in relation to the altercation with the soldier.

"It is important that people contact the police for any aggressive or threatening incidents/issues."

Holmes said a City Safety Plan, which was approved in March, was being implemented.

"It brings together a series of actions and initiatives across several delivery partners to address antisocial behaviours and key identified issues/behaviours across the entire city."

Inspector Karl Wright-St Clair, Western Bay of Plenty prevention manager, said the police had responded to five incidents on Spring St since the start of the year including Friday's incident.

Other incidents included two reports of people using drugs, an intoxicated woman yelling at people and four men yelling at members of the public.

Wright-St Clair said police were aware of concerns in the area and would work with the council to find a solution, which would include an increased police presence.

The CBD worker who witnessed Friday's altercation said issues involving homeless people in Red Square in Spring St had become worse over the past three months, with people urinating in public, causing altercations with the public, drinking, sleeping in doorways and leaving their belongings behind.

"I think foot traffic's down, it's clearly down. People won't come through here, they'll turn and go the other way because they're intimidated, they're frightened."

A business owner in Red Square said the "outrageous" altercation on Friday was the latest incident in the square involving "aggressive homeless people".

He said the man yelling was not even making sense. He was not asking for money.

"The council needs to do something and we need a solution for this because it's getting out of control."

The owner said homeless people were doing drugs and drinking alcohol in public, which was "scaring people out of the heart of the city".

"They can't just congregate in Red Square smoking weed and drinking."

The owner, who also did not want to be named, said he phoned the police this month about homeless people smoking cannabis outside his business but the police did not show up.

"I have contacted the council several times with no results."

The police said they received a report at 4.10pm on April 12 of two women and a man smoking cannabis in Red Square. A police unit was responding when they were diverted to a more serious incident.

The business owner also said some homeless people recently came into his business to use the toilets, which he told them were only for customers.

"They were using the restroom and they got aggressive and then abused me in front of customers," the owner said.

"They're living down here in the Red Square and it's not a place for people to live. It scares off customers; it scares people to walk through this area."

Owner of Fancy That gift and souvenir shop on Devonport Rd, Bill Campbell, said it was not good for the "public image" of the area.

"People will avoid that sort of problem. They either don't want to see it or they don't want to be caught up in it."

He said some workers were scared about walking to the nearby carpark after work if it was dark.

"It's ongoing and it has got worse."

 

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