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Woman, 76, chases thief from house in Orange: "I should have thrown the apricot chicken at him!"

July 5, 2023

The thief entered through these sliding doors into the sunroom. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

By Peter Holmes

A 76-year-old Orange woman has spoken about how she came “nose to nose” with a short, slender burglar inside her house, before chasing after him on Lords Place.

It was one of a series of recent break-ins and attempts to steal from vehicles in a patch on and around Lords Place.

Maude - not her real name - had returned to her home from a seniors’ gathering in town at about 5pm last Tuesday.

“I did the usual thing, went to the letterbox, and this fella was walking down the street,” she told The Orange News Examiner. “He looked at me and said hello.”

The man - who Maude said looked preternaturally aged around the eyes - continued on his way down the street. Maude went inside her house via the back sunroom to collect her hockey stick and a ball.

Night was falling, but Maude was a keen hockey player who aimed to practice dribbling up and down her driveway for 30 minutes each day. After practicising she returned to the sunroom and sat, before heading to her backyard to exercise on gym equipment.

After a session she went back to sit in her sunroom before walking to her car, which was parked near the entrance to the sunroom, to collect a container of apricot chicken.

The view from the sunroom to the garage. Maude believed the man may have been watching her from the garage. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

It was now about 6:30pm. CCTV from neighbours showed that the man had been lurking around the vicinity of Maude’s house the entire time.

Maude again sat in her sunroom, where only one of a row of lights was on. She believed the man was probably standing near or in her garage, watching her across the backyard through the sunroom windows. Fibres believed to be from gloves were found by police on the side door of the garage.

Maude walked a few metres from her chair in the sunroom to the home’s original back door, which was still locked. She unlocked the door and walked a few steps into the kitchen.

Through the kitchen window into the sunroom, she noticed a figure in the darkness.

At first she assumed it was a relative popping by, but it was in fact a short and slender man aged about 25, wearing a charcoal hoodie, black pants and gloves.

Maude came face-to-face with the man at the entry to the kitchen. He grabbed a decoy handbag from the door and fled. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

The man had walked through Maude’s unlocked screen door into the sunroom and followed her into the entry of the kitchen.

“He must have got fed up with waiting,” Maude said.

Maude estimated the man was about 5ft 5in tall.

“We were face to face, nose to nose,” Maude said. “I said ‘What are you doing here?’”

The man lunged for Maude’s decoy handbag, which was hanging on a door handle and contained just 40 cents. [Maude said senior citizens had been sharing security tips, including keeping decoy handbags.]

“He was off, like lightning,” Maude said. On the way out the man spotted Maude’s mobile phone in the sunroom and grabbed it.

“But he was so fast,” she said. “He bolted, with me after him, screaming at him ‘Bring my phone back!’”

Aroused by the hubbub, neighbours rushed outside. Maude gave up the chase after about half a block, no match for the spindly thief.

One friend asked if she was OK, and whether the police needed to be called. “By all means, yes,” Maude replied, adrenalin coursing through her veins.

In hindsight, Maude said, “I should have thrown the apricot chicken at him”.

Police were soon on the scene.

The phone was tracked first to in or around Bunnings on Northern Distributor Road, and then to Officeworks on William Street.

Detectives have retrieved CCTV footage from nearby properties.

Data from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) showed that in the 12 months to March 2023 there were 284 Break and Enter Dwelling incidents reported in Orange.

Maude said neighbours had since told her of their own experiences with crime in that part of town.

She advised people in Orange to take security seriously and ensure that cars and residences were always locked, even when you were at home.

Since launching in January 2022 The Orange News Examiner has spoken to numerous locals who either came face-to-face with home invaders, or were sleeping - sometimes with young children in separate bedrooms - as thieves ransacked their homes.

Social media pages are regularly used to warn locals in real time about individuals or groups of people roaming the streets overnight, testing out cars and locks on doors and gates. No suburbs are immune.

A map of all the streets where people have been robbed, or tested out, or had their wheels stolen, would light Orange up like a Christmas tree.

Maude has lived in Orange for 49 years. She recalled two other incidents over that time. Once, in 1985, a person entered her house and claimed they were looking for friends. “I escorted him out,” Maude said.

Three years ago she was robbed, and due to the nature of what was stolen, she believed it was the result of tradespeople taking advantage of trust she had placed in them.

Victims of crime have told us they are concerned about juveniles - from Orange and elsewhere - being used by adults to lay the groundwork for crimes to be committed.

A couple whose Orange house was smashed into recently believed they were cased two weeks before the home invasion by two girls aged about 12 who turned up on their doorstep at the end of a cul de sac looking for a McDonald’s fast food restaurant that was several kilometres away.

In an attempt to keep young people out of the juvenile justice system, a caution system can be employed by police.

The NSW Police Force said it “has a strong commitment to building trust with young people while reducing crime, violence and fear of crime in the community”.

In NSW criminal responsibility legally commences at the age of 10. Under criminal law a child is defined as a person under 18 years.

Various aspects of criminal justice are administered in NSW by different government agencies including the NSW Police Force, the Department of Attorney General and Justice and the Department of Juvenile Justice.

“These agencies work closely together to reduce re-offending among young people,” police stated.

“Police may divert eligible young offenders from court and detention through warnings, cautions or referral to a youth justice conference under the Young Offenders Act.

“The Act states that a formal caution or a Youth Justice Conference (YJC) can be prescribed for a young person if the young person has admitted the offence; consented to a caution or YJC; committed an offence for which a caution or YJC can be given; and, is entitled to a caution or YJC.”

Youth Justice Conferences occur in Orange, and police say the process - which involves children meeting the victim or victims of their crimes - can jolt young people into staying away from trouble.

The NSW government stated that at a YJC:

  • The young person accepts responsibility by talking about the offence and thinking about the harm they have caused the victim;

  • The victim tells the young person how they felt about the offence and how they were harmed;

  • The victim and other people attending the conference can also ask the young person questions about what happened;

  • The participants decide on an outcome plan, which sets out tasks for the young person to complete to make up for some of the harm they have caused. This can include an apology, actions directly for the victim, and steps to link the young person into the community.

One local who had attended such a conference as a victim of crime told The Orange News Examiner that the perpetrator had turned their life around after doing work in the community, and had used connections forged to start a career.

One of Maude's handbags. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Matters taken into account when determining a course of action include the seriousness of the offence; the degree of violence; the harm caused to the victim and previous offence history.

The NSW Police Force Youth Strategy “embraces three key priority areas - prevention, intervention and partnership”, NSW Police stated.

Priorities include preventing youth offending and re-offending, protecting the vulnerable, disrupting youth crime cycles through early intervention, diversion; and strengthening youth and community engagement.

Maude, meanwhile, was still pretty angry when she spoke to The Orange News Examiner. She was channelling it into her paintings.

Without her phone, she had been forced to borrow one.

A grandson went to a well-known second hand shop in Canberra to buy her an iPhone, but the shop had been broken into and all the smartphones had been stolen.

Maude drew a sketch of the man for police.

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