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Rose Cottage dairy murder: Shopkeeper died for a 'few dollars', 501 killer says 'I am a coward'

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Wed, 26 Jun 2024, 12:27pm

Rose Cottage dairy murder: Shopkeeper died for a 'few dollars', 501 killer says 'I am a coward'

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Wed, 26 Jun 2024, 12:27pm

An Auckland man who murdered a newlywed shopkeeper over a money till and some butane lighters - sparking nationwide outrage over the safety of retail workers - was a homeless, meth-addicted 501 deportee.

Frederick Gilbert Hobson had been kicked out of Australia just six months earlier after serving a prison sentence there.

Details of Hobson’s life were revealed today as the 36-year-old appeared in the High Court at Auckland for sentencing. Justice Simon Moore ordered a term of life imprisonment with a stipulation Hobson serve at least 15 years before he can apply for parole.

“You killed Mr [Janak] Patel to thwart his extraordinarily brave and courageous actions,” the judge said.

“It ... outraged the community.”

Hobson, in a letter read aloud by his lawyer, didn’t disagree.

“I whole-heartedly apologise for my despicable behaviour,” the defendant said.

“I admit I am a coward and a low-life criminal, to say the least, with a drug addiction and no respect for the law.

“My actions have consequences, and that is something I will face on judgement day.”

He was joined in the dock by co-defendant Shane Henry Tane, 44, who was sentenced to four-and-a-half years’ imprisonment for aggravated robbery.

Tane had earlier been charged with murder but was not present when Patel was stabbed, and so was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge.

Authorities said the duo targeted the Rose Cottage Superette, a family-run, pink-painted neighbourhood icon in Sandringham, in November 2022.

The 34-year-old victim had just days earlier moved from Hamilton with his new wife to look after the business while its owners were overseas. Like Hobson, he had arrived in New Zealand just months earlier, albeit under much happier circumstances.

Having been just given a new position of trust - a potential step up the ladder in his dream of someday running his own business - Patel decided not to back down when Hobson, wearing a black bandana, rushed in with a knife.

“Mr Hobson ran behind the counter of the superette, forcing his way through two closed wooden panels, and approached the cash register,” court documents state, explaining that the victim’s wife was at the front of the store and rushed to the back room in retreat.

Janak Patel. Photo / Supplied
Janak Patel. Photo / Supplied

“Mr Patel then stepped out and was confronted... by Mr Hobson holding the knife towards him in his right hand, causing Mr Patel to retreat back into the room where he came from.”

In addition to picking up the entire cash register, Hobson appeared to grab nearby items, including butane lighters and vapes, before leaving.

It was “striking”, the judge said today, how Hobson appeared to have been almost “sauntering” calmly down the street when Patel emerged from the store with a hockey stick, chasing after him.

About 150 metres from the dairy, Hobson transferred the cash register to a recycling wheelie bin that had been left on the kerb before continuing to walk away with the bin in tow.

But when he heard the shopkeeper approaching, he put the bin to one side, pulled his bandana back over his face and picked up a large tree branch.

“Mr Hobson ... then turned around and aggressively advanced towards Mr Patel holding a sharp knife and the tree branch in his right hand,” court documents state.

“Mr Patel retreated away from Mr Hobson then advanced towards Mr Hobson, shouting and swinging the hockey stick with force at Mr Hobson on three occasions, causing Mr Hobson to retreat to avoid being hit by the hockey stick, which created distance between the pair.

Frederick Hobson has been sentenced after he admitted killing Sandringham dairy worker Janak Patel. Photo / Michael Craig
Frederick Hobson has been sentenced after he admitted killing Sandringham dairy worker Janak Patel. Photo / Michael Craig

“Mr Hobson waited for Mr Patel to swing the hockey stick again, dropped the tree branch, and lunged towards Mr Patel with the knife, pushing him onto the ground on his back.”

Hobson knelt over the vulnerable dairy worker, held him down with his left hand and stabbed him several times in quick succession with his right.

Despite the injuries, Patel continued to fight back, managing to get back to his feet as he wrestled Hobson for the hockey stick.

As both men held onto the item, Hobson stabbed Patel three more times.

“The final blow was to Mr Patel’s neck, causing him to fall to the ground once again,” court documents state.

“At this point, Mr Patel moved around the wheelie bin in an attempt to get away from Mr Hobson.

“Mr Hobson approached Mr Patel once more and attempted to stab him a further time. Mr Patel managed to break free of Mr Hobson’s grasp and ran back towards the Rose Cottage Superette before collapsing after taking five steps.”

Hobson then turned around, collected the wheelie bin again “and continued walking casually” away from the scene.

Patel was remembered today as a quiet, humble and kind family man living his dream of starting a “new and exciting”, fairytale-like life in New Zealand.

His parents had just days earlier arrived in New Zealand for what was supposed to be the “trip of a lifetime”.

“He was killed for a few dollars,” his younger sister, Nilam Patel, said in a written statement, explaining that her brother would have been so insistent about getting the till back because it didn’t belong to him.

He would have felt it was a dishonour to not have enough money himself to compensate its owner.

The sister, who operates her own dairy in Hamilton, said the violent death has shattered her faith in people being basically decent.

“My trust has been stolen from me, and so has my beautiful world,” Nilam Patel said, explaining that she now lives in constant fear.

“How could this happen in New Zealand, our place of safety?”

Most victim impact statements, including from both of his parents, were read aloud by the Crown. His widow, however, submitted a statement directly to the judge that she asked not be read aloud in court.

“She has been hurt in a way that will leave lifelong scars,” the judge noted of the statement.

“She described how her world has collapsed.”

Patel’s death sparked rallying cries from small business owners and employees for the Government to ramp up efforts to combat crime - after what many said had been years of feeling decreasingly safe in their jobs.

Left to right: Co-defendants Henry Fred, Shane Henry Tane and Frederick Gilbert Hobson appear in the High Court at Auckland following the death of Sandringham dairy worker Janak Patel. Photo / Michael Craig
Left to right: Co-defendants Henry Fred, Shane Henry Tane and Frederick Gilbert Hobson appear in the High Court at Auckland following the death of Sandringham dairy worker Janak Patel. Photo / Michael Craig

Hundreds attended vigils and small business owners temporarily shut their doors across the country in an organised protest to highlight what has been perceived as the growing danger of operating a dairy in New Zealand.

Patel’s funeral was attended by then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and MP Mark Mitchell, who currently serves as Police Minister under National’s coalition Government.

“She was so nice and friendly,” Patels sister recalled of Ardern visiting the family in their home. “We cried together.”

During today’s hearing, Crown Solicitor Alysha McClintock argued that Hobson should receive a minimum term of imprisonment of at least 17 years. She cited a provision of the Sentencing Act calling for such a term for murders committed “in the course of another serious offence” or “committed in an attempt to avoid the detection, prosecution or conviction”.

But Defence lawyer David Young argued that the provisions didn’t apply to his client’s offending, and the judge agreed.

“By the time you stabbed Mr Patel, the aggravated robbery was over,” Justice Moore explained. “You didn’t kill him to prevent him from identifying you to police.”

However, the fact the killing took place in the immediate aftermath of the robbery was still an important factor, the judge said, ordering a similar starting point of 16 years’ imprisonment.

“What you did sparked a national outcry,” he reminded the defendant. “It was a lightning rod for community backlash … It remains significant in the memory of the public.”

The judge uplifted the sentence by six months to reflect the fact he was the subject of a returning offenders order - similar to parole conditions - following his deportation from Australia and, during his short time back in New Zealand, had picked up charges for assault, burglary and possession of an offensive weapon.

The judge then applied credits of one-and-a-half years for his guilty plea and his background, which included a 1g per day methamphetamine habit that led to his imprisonment in Australia, his addiction to heroin while in prison and the disorientation upon his reluctant return to New Zealand after many years.

The judge declined to apply a separate discount for remorse, noting that in Hobson’s letter of apology he claimed he wasn’t writing it for a reduced sentence but simply to make sure Patel’s family knew about his deep shame and remorse.

“I make no excuses for my actions and take full responsibility for what happened,” Hobson wrote. “From the bottom of my heart I am truly very sorry. That is something I will have to live with.”

The hearing was attended by Patel’s sister and father, as well as outspoken Dairy and Business Association chairman Sunny Kaushal.

Outside the courthouse, Nilam Patel emphasised that no sentence would bring her brother back. She expressed dismay that Hobson had not been more closely watched by law enforcement after his deportation from Australia, especially after he committed more crimes in New Zealand.

“If he was in jail my brother would not have died,” she said.

The sentiments were echoed by Kaushal, who said dairy workers still still fear for their safety. He spent yesterday at hospital with a Papatoetoe jewellery store owner who suffered serious injuries after he was hit in the head with a hammer while trying to thwart a robbery.

“We are no safer as we were [at the time of Patel’s death],” he said. “New Zealand is becoming more violent day by day. ... Law and order needs to be fixed urgently, and we all need to feel safer.

“This is not who we are.”

Detective Inspector Geoffrey Baber, also speaking to media outside the courthouse, acknowledged that the case has not only devastated the Patel family but had a nationwide impact.

“It certainly created a lot of talk, which was appropriate,” he said of retail safety, thanking retailers and the community for their support in the investigation. “That discussion was good, and it’s still ongoing to this day.”

A third alleged co-defendant - 38-year-old Henry Fred, accused of being the getaway driver - was also charged with murder as a party but the Solicitor-General agreed not to prosecute the case after it was revealed he was suffering a terminal illness.

Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand.

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