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"We're going to burn your shop down": Just another day in Orange retail

August 27, 2022

Sportspower on Friday afternoon. Taken from CCTV footage.

By Peter Holmes

Primary school children stealing foot slides worth about $50 a pair; a metal business sign being thrown across the footpath; a threat to burn down the business; a girl refusing to leave; children dashing into the store and hiding.

For Louise Littlefield, manager of Sportspower on Summer Street, this is her working life of late.

She has worked there for four years and loves her job, but she’s had a gutful.

In recent weeks, Littlefield said, the shop had been targeted on a number of occasions by groups of children aged about 10 to 13.

Louise Littlefield (right) attempts to retrieve clothing at Sportspower on Friday afternoon. Taken from CCTV footage.

“A few weeks ago they came in and all split up, and usually there are only two of us on and we couldn't keep an eye on them,” she told The Orange News Examiner.

“They grabbed about five or six things, put them up their jumpers, and one kid tried to steal something while the others all crowded around trying to hide them. It's really hard to keep an eye on them, but we kicked them out.”

Items were stolen. Then last Sunday it was on again.

“Two of the kids came in and they stole two pairs of slides, then they came back on Monday,” Littlefield said. “I saw them walk in the door so I kicked them out straight away.”

The entrance to Sportspower on Friday afternoon. Taken from CCTV footage.

She said they were of primary school age. “That’s how young they’re starting,” she said.

“Then on Wednesday girls came in and they stole some socks; I confronted them with the footage, showed them on my phone and said ‘I’ve got you on camera stealing socks’, so they ran off.”

Yesterday [Friday August 26, 2022] at 3:25pm about 10 children descended on the front of Sportspower. They looked to range in age from about 10 to 13. While some waited outside, a group of about half a dozen entered the store at once and immediately split up.

Jostling at the entrance to Sportspower on Friday afternoon. Taken from CCTV footage.

Littlefield set about booting them out of the shop, which set off a three-minute episode - all captured on video - that included children entering and exiting on foot and scooters; a child attempting to hide behind a clothes racks; a child trying to flick Littlefield’s hand as she pointed them out of the store; a girl dodging and weaving around Littlefield and worker Des then, after leaving the premises, hurling a metal, V-shaped Sportspower sign across the walkway; and, oddly, a child raising their hands above their head as they left the store.

A child leaves Sportspower on Friday afternoon with hands above their head. Taken from CCTV footage.

“As soon as they came in yesterday I said ‘Get out’ and they all [eventually] ran off, but one girl didn't want to leave. She kept coming in saying, ‘Oh I’ve never been in here’, trying to act all innocent, but I’m like, ‘Yes you have, we know who you are’.”

Littlefield said staff were now “on the edge of an afternoon, every time the door opens we look up to check it's not them. It's just ridiculous”.

“Last week they came in when [employee] Des was here, and they said they were going to come back and burn the shop down,” she said. “We don't know if they're going to come back and retaliate. It's pretty scary.”

A person attempts to flick Louise Littlefield's hand at Sportspower on Friday afternoon. Taken from CCTV footage.

Theft is an ongoing issue at Sportspower, and Littlefield said thieves would put stolen goods “down their pants or their tops”.

“We’re not allowed to search clothes. We can ask to search their bag, but most of the time they put it in their clothing, so we have to ring the police. I don't know if they get caught, but we never get reimbursed for the stuff they take.”

Video of the incident yesterday, which has gone viral, showed Littlefield locking the front of the store after all the children had left, then phoning police.

“[When I called them] I was pretty cranky and I said, ‘Look I've just had enough of this, you need to come down’. I said they were headed towards the Orange City Centre [where a brawl later occurred] and the [police] got down here about 20 past five.”

[At a community meeting earlier this year in Glenroi, residents who complained about response times were told by police that callouts were prioritised based on urgency, and that delays meant police were required elsewhere.]

Littlefield said that during a previous visit from police about a fortnight ago she said to an officer: “'We need to do something, I’m really sick of this. What can we do?' He said we could maybe hire a security guard.”

The sign is thrown at Sportspower on Friday afternoon. Taken from CCTV footage.

Not only would that cost the business a small fortune, but it would come on top of the fact Littlefield can’t put on junior staff “in the afternoon because they're too scared”, thus inflating the wages bill.

“And if their parents see that video yesterday, they probably don't want their kids working when these kids are coming in.”

More police street patrols around school hours would help, Littlefield said.

She said a range of shops in the centre of town were facing the same challenges as Sportspower.

“And I think their parents need to be held accountable,” she added. “Do they care? Maybe if they started getting in trouble as well, maybe they might care a bit. I don’t know.

"We were just sitting here this morning looking at the door wondering if they're going to be in here today. It's scary. The police know them, everyone knows them, but nothing is being done."

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