The Whakatane Beacon is reviewing its early morning deliveries after a night of drama in which a driver and his partner were hassled by the Mongrel Mob and the Armed Offenders Squad.
The couple, who have asked not to be named, were delivering bundles of newspapers in the Ōpōtiki area the same night a drive-by shooting occurred at the family home of the Barbarian Mongrel Mob chapter president.
Because they were in a white van, like the shooter, they were immediately considered suspects by both the mob and police.
"We saw several police cars parked on the side of the road and did wonder what was happening, but they just let us go past, so we continued with our deliveries," said the woman.
"We were followed by three mob vehicles with big spotlights shining on us. As we turned into an alleyway to drop off a bundle, they hemmed us in, and we couldn't leave. They confronted us and they took some convincing that we were just delivery people and we hadn't been involved in the shooting. They then told us to get out and leave town."
Despite the frightening experience, the two were determined to finish their deliveries but then, as they were leaving town, they were stopped by the AOS.
"They trained their spotlights and guns on us and were yelling for us to put our hands in the air and back slowly out of the van," she said.
"We had to walk backwards across the road towards them, with our hands in the air.
"We then stood there and watched as they searched our van. It was really scary and like something you would only see in a movie.
"When they knew we were delivery people they did say sorry."
The newspapers still got through. Photo / Whakatane Beacon
After reflecting on the situation, the woman said she wished the police had warned them before they got into Ōpōtiki so the situation could have been avoided. She is now considering writing a letter of complaint.
"They let us into the danger zone, and it was really scary for us," she said.
However, while this has been their most traumatic experience, it is far from the first time they have been threatened or intimidated while making deliveries.
The two also deliver in Waimana and Kawerau and said, early in the morning, these places could also be "dodgy".
"We carry a baseball bat with us and when we are in Ōpōtiki and Kawerau we are often followed by cars with gang members in checking us out," the woman said.
"There are also a lot of drunks, and people on methamphetamine about, as well as homeless people sleeping in the alleyways that we drop bundles in. We see it all, we recently saw a naked man, I think high on meth, running down the middle of the street and it was freezing cold.
"We have told the woman who delivers The Herald on her own to never get out of her car and to throw the bundles out the window."
She said there were some spots that were often frequented by people in the early hours.
She and her partner would wait in the van for them to leave before getting out and dropping off the bundles.
"It can be pretty freaky sometimes, but that experience in Ōpōtiki was definitely the worst.
That was really frightening," she said.
"The mob all wave at us now though when they see us."
Beacon administration manager Fiona Marshall said the incident was really concerning for the company and it was reviewing policies to ensure it could keep delivery staff safe.
"How to keep our employees safe is the main priority for us," said Marshall.
"Recently there has been a growing problem with homeless people and others out at night approaching our delivery drivers and intimidating them, so we are reviewing our policies such as what time we drop off newspapers, and where we drop them off, to see if there is any way to make that job safer for them."
To start, The Beacon has invested in signwriting the couple's delivery van with Beacon branding, so it is immediately obvious it is a delivery vehicle. It has also replaced the drivers' standard hi-vis vests with Beacon-branded vests.
"We have some other options we are considering, but hopefully these changes will make it obvious that our staff are working and are not out at night looking for trouble," said Marshall.
- Whakatane Beacon