Vege store staff held at gunpoint and beaten by masked robbers trying to break into the vault

Luke Baker-Garters was restocking lettuces at work when a masked man dressed in black grabbed him from behind, pointed a gun to his head and demanded access to the safe.

The man, brandishing a revolver, was one of three thieves who entered the back of Growers Direct Market, on Yaldhurst Rd in Sockburn, Christchurch on Sunday morning intending to steal money.

Fruit and vegetable shop staff were threatened with the gun, beaten and thrown to the ground as the masked and hooded men searched for the safe, CCTV footage obtained by Things shows.

“At first I didn’t realize what was going on, it was really scary,” Baker-Garters, 20, said. “He pulled me out of the fridge, punched me, then said, ‘Take me upstairs’.”

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Before he could react, the man moved on to one of his colleagues, who was also punched in the face as they were forced through a storeroom.

The gang told everyone inside to “get on the ground and stay still”, before demanding to be taken upstairs to a safe.

Footage showed one of the thieves running upstairs before breaking through an office door and trying to open a safe, only to find it locked.

Three thieves attacked and threatened staff with a gun as they tried unsuccessfully to break into the store's safe.

CHRIS SQUELTON

Three thieves attacked and threatened staff with a gun as they tried unsuccessfully to break into the store’s safe.

After glancing around the room, he then disappeared out the door and downstairs empty-handed.

Theresa Lam, who was counting the stock in a back room, was the last person to be attacked as the trio fled.

Two of the men dragged her through the storeroom before knocking her to the ground at gunpoint and fleeing, the whole raid happening within minutes.

One of the men appeared to fire twice outside as the trio ran from the back of the store to a stolen vehicle, which was found nearby by police.

Growers Direct Market employees Luke Baker-Garter and Theresa Lam were held at gunpoint during the armed robbery.

CHRIS SQUELTON

Growers Direct Market employees Luke Baker-Garter and Theresa Lam were held at gunpoint during the armed robbery.

The men are still on the run.

Lam was shaken but not injured, while Baker-Garters was left with a black eye and a swollen lip.

“I thought there was a better chance of me catching Covid here than being robbed,” he said.

Growers Direct Market owner Steven McClintock said in 48 years of service the store had never experienced such a brazen attempted robbery.

“Our staff are traumatized,” he said. “Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.”

Growers Direct Market owner Steven McClintock says he hasn't seen such a brazen attempted robbery in his 48 years of owning the store, and hopes the clear CCTV footage will help find the offenders.

CHRIS SQUELTON

Growers Direct Market owner Steven McClintock says he hasn’t seen such a brazen attempted robbery in his 48 years of owning the store, and hopes the clear CCTV footage will help find the offenders.

McClintock provided police with CCTV footage from the store’s 16 cameras and said he hoped it would help bring violators to justice quickly.

It appeared that at least one of the gang members knew where they were going as they found the safe almost immediately in an office but were unable to access it, he said.

Customers were also inside at the time, but none were injured.

McMclintock said discussions are ongoing with staff on how to enhance security.

“Over 90% of our money is kept offsite anyway,” he said.

A year ago, another attempted break-in took place in the store in the middle of the night.

Growers Direct Market opened in 1974 and sells products wholesale and retail.

A post on Facebook said it was closed for the rest of Sunday due to an “armed hold-up”. It reopened on Monday.

Investigations are currently underway to find the culprits, police said. Anyone with information about the incident should contact 111 and quote event number P049400211.