Police target pub, club robbers

A POLICE strike force has been formed to investigate a major spike in the number of thieves smashing their way into pubs and clubs to get to vending-machine and poker-machine cash.

Specialist police from the state crime command have joined Hunter detectives to look more closely at 50 burglaries on licensed premises across five local area commands dating back to the start of last year.

Detective Inspector Gary Hutchen, of the property crime squad, said Strike Force Restoration would look specifically at the crimes against pubs and clubs, some of which had pushed the organisations to the brink of financial ruin.

"I wouldn't class it as an epidemic but we have noticed a spike in these offences and that is why we formed the strike force to investigate them," Detective Inspector Hutchen said.

"We believe they are purely break-and-enter offences, where they are getting into premises and entering vending machines and poker machines."

He later added: "It is not just the cost or money but the actual damage to the machines, and that obviously has a financial impact on the viability of some of these small clubs."

Northern region operations manager Detective Inspector Tony Townsend said different individuals and groups were responsible.

They faced up to 14 years in jail.

"A lot of [the targets] are small businesses and one break-and-enter can have a significant impact on those particular businesses," Detective Inspector Townsend said.

The break-ins being investigated include the hole-in-the-wall attack on Charlestown Golf Club, where a thief spent hours smashing through a wall but failed to steal a safe.

Strike Force Restoration also released images of a man wanted over the break-in of a West Wallsend club on January 15.

The suspect is described as about 170 centimetres tall, with a medium-to-solid build and a medium-to-dark complexion.

He was wearing blue jeans, a black hooded jacket and a black baseball cap.

Doors remain open at bowling club

THE dozens of poker machines sitting idle in such an isolated spot must have seemed like a pot of nectar to the grubs who kept returning.

But the loyalty of its members and some sound security upgrades have given Maitland Park Bowling Club a positive look at the future despite being targeted four times in eight months.

‘‘We have had to battle through it and there has been a lot of negative comments about the future of the club,’’ chairman David Merchant said.

‘‘But I can assure everyone that the doors will remain open and we will get through this.’’

The construction of a roller-door screen which keeps the poker machines from burglars has  proved a wonder stroke.

‘‘They broke in the day before the roller door went up,’’ he said.

‘‘There are a lot of break-ins happening around the place, it has been such an issue.’’

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