By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A children’s court judge has expressed alarm at the spate of gang youths accused of robberies and thefts at the Fountain Gate shopping centre precinct in the past month.
“Is there any reason why this has become such an issue at this shopping centre?” the judge asked at a bail hearing for a 15-year-old boy accused of armed robbery and other charges on 14 May.
The judge said there had been a conversation about a collaborative approach between Victoria Police and Youth Justice to avoid young congregations at the venue.
“It needs to be more pro-active.
“There are so many young people committing serious indictable offending – robberies and thefts – and they don’t seem to be dissuaded.”
Police opposed bail for the boy, accusing him of taking part in a series of “violent street robberies with a pack mentality”.
At the time of the offences, he was on bail barring him from attending the shopping centre precinct and hanging out with his co-accused.
Despite the conditions, he was accused of the armed robbery, false imprisonment and theft from a 12-year-old victim at a Fountain Gate bus stop at 3.20pm on 25 April.
He was allegedly part of a group that threatened the victim with a Taser, a flick-knife and hunting knives and demanded the victim’s phone.
On 10 May, the accused and two other offenders allegedly stole four items worth $1640 from a Kathmandu van parked in a loading bay at the centre.
On the afternoon of 12 May, a 17-year-old male and his friends were followed by the accused and his gang from a Fountain Gate bus stop to the Bunjil Place centre.
The victim was robbed of a blue vape outside the library area, and challenged to fight to get his bag back.
The accused had allegedly been on bail at the time for other Fountain Gate offences this year, including an alleged burglary and theft of cake and food from a Fountain Gate cinema.
He had also been accused of the recklessly causing injury and assault of a 15-year-old and the affray and assault of a 23-year-old male.
In the latter case, the victim was punched and kicked to the ground by a group of five youths. The attack continued while he was “lifeless” on the ground.
The victims feared further attacks and feared for their security in public places, a police detective told the court.
The boy’s parents seemed to have “no control” over the accused.
At the time, the boy was refusing to attend school, was under Youth Justice supervision, and was attending headspace mental health services.
He had nothing to do during the day. His offending was motivated by boredom and his negative peers, his lawyer said.
A Youth Justice worker told the court that young offenders “seem to just be congregating” at Fountain Gate.
“It’s a public place and there’s little control of them there.”
The boy was bailed again on strict conditions including a night curfew and a ban from Fountain Gate.
“You need to stop because if you keep committing these offences, police will arrest you and you’ll go back to Parkville (youth detention facility),” the judge said.
Casey police local area commander Inspector Don Brown told Star News there were “highly visible” police foot-patrols in and around the shopping centre and nearby public transport hubs.
The ongoing, regular collaboration with Fountain Gate management had resulted in the detection and apprehension of offenders and bringing them to court, Insp Brown said.
Most of the offending outside the shopping centre was opportunistic thefts from unlocked cars or robberies, he said.