Footage of Lismore CBD break-in shows thieves targeting business

Businesses and charities in the heart of Lismore’s flood-ravaged central business district are battling repeated break-in while trying to recover from the region’s worst natural disaster on record.

“Once you get done the first time you sort of think ‘that’s it’,” eyewear store co-owner Bobby Bugden said.

He said his business was robbed three times in the space of just four weeks.

“To get hit again four weeks later and back-to-back nights as well, where they did it on a much bigger scale — it has been a pretty tough pill to swallow,” he said.

Mr Bugden said a back door was kicked in during the first incident in late May, but losses were limited to a few bits of optometry equipment and the intruders had “virtually just made a mess”.

Four weeks later he said he arrived to find the big steel gate over the back door had been cut with bolt cutters or a grinder.

The store had been “completely cleaned out” including of prescription glasses.

A man with black glasses in an eyewear store
Bobby Bugden’s store was robbed three times in four weeks.(ABC North Coast: Leah White)

Mr Bugden said police came through and took fingerprints and set up cameras, but the next night it happened again.

“They came in through the roof … and they just finished us off.”

Staff slept in buildings

Business owner Elton Cummings said he had four break-ins across his two CBD stores during which generators were stolen and windows smashed immediately after the floods.

man in blue shirt standing outside sports shop with an open sign in the background
Elton Cummings had people sleep in his building to discourage break-ins.(ABC North Coast: Bronwyn Herbert)

“We put someone in the building to sleep so that wouldn’t occur (again), and we did chase someone away,” Mr Cummings said.

He said that choice was made because the building had no power and no security.

Mr Cummings said there had since been another break-in during which a thief climbed under the building and cut the electrical wires to a power point in the floor, which blew a fuse.

They then pushed the power point out and reached into the store, grabbing products from racks.

“I was surprised how organized they were,” Mr Cummings said.

“The day before they would have had a look at what they could get and either they’re very clever and know how to dissemble power points or just lucky that they didn’t get killed.”

‘Knew what they were doing’

The Center Church was recently robbed of a generator, furniture and donations.

Pastor Rebekka Battista said the thieves would have had to carry the heavy goods out over a labyrinth of elevated timber frames, riddled with nails, in the dark.

“They had to kick in the back door, walk and climb over that structure — 30 meters of it — to get to the front door where we had the generators and we had the couches — and carry them over this structure which was so dangerous — I’m surprised someone wasn’t impaled,” she said.

“They obviously had time and they knew what they were doing.”

A woman with black hair and a fringe in a pink jumper in front of a boarded up businesses with loveheart spray painted in back
Rebekka Battista says looters went to extraordinary lengths to steal from her church.(ABC North Coast: Leah White)

Ms Battista said the thefts were a big blow to morale and had delayed flood victims receiving donations.

Police say property crime down

Richmond Police District officer Detective Inspector Grant Erickson said despite the reports, property crime in Lismore was down 14 per cent, compared to the three months before the flood.

But he said police were “working with a couple of businesses who have been victims of break and enter on three occasions”.

“It’s definitely something that we are very motivated in trying to solve,” Inspector Erickson said.

He said property crime in June had halved compared to the same time last year and police had implemented a range of measures such as targeting hot-spot areas and acting early on forensic identification like fingerprinting and DNA.

Two men kayak down a flooded street where water reaches halfway up buildings
The Lismore CBD was inundated again a month after the record-breaking February flood.(Supplied: NSW SES)

CCTV network destroyed in floods

The network of CCTV cameras around the Lismore CBD had been largely inactive since being submerged and damaged in the floods.

But Lismore City Council general manager John Walker said that was until it was restored last week.

A street with flood damaged goods and a mural
A CCTV camera network has been restored in the Lismore CBD.(ABC News: Bronwyn Herbert)

Mr Walker said the restored surveillance would help reduce crime.

“When you have CCTV cameras you’ve got the pictures and the pictures can identify the people and then you can use them in court,” he said.

“So we think it’s a significant necessity for not only keeping looters under control but all anti-social behaviour.”

Mr Walker said lighting towers would soon be placed around the CBD to improve night-time visibility as well.

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