Coles, Liquorland gift cards fuel huge crime spike
Gift cards used to buy thousands of dollars worth of booze over the Christmas and New Year holidays helped to fuel a massive surge in crime and violence across Port Hedland, police say.
It is understood up to $300,000 worth of Coles gift cards — some valued at up to $1500 — were issued to Aboriginal people and used to buy alcohol in the lead-up to Christmas. The vouchers were redeemable at Liquorland outlets.
It has not been confirmed where the gift cards had been bought, or if they had been handed out by an official entity.
The revelation comes as Port Hedland Sen. Sgt Dean Snashall detailed officers’ huge battle to counter alcohol-related violence and harm in the community over the festive season.
Town of Port Hedland mayor Camilo Blanco said he was appalled and angered that gift cards would be used in such a way.
“This is not helping the less fortunate. It is contributing to the serious destruction of another generation,” he said.
On December 21 alone, police were called to 46 jobs, 33 of which were alcohol-related. St John Ambulance responded to an “unprecedented” 20 call-outs on the same night, all alcohol-related.
Sen. Sgt. Snashall said officers were forced to visit one South Hedland residence on six occasions that night for violent and anti-social behaviour due to large quantities of alcohol being consumed.
In a bid to limit the number of call-outs, police conducted point-of-sale operations over the following two days, with officers stationed outside the South Hedland branch of Liquorland.
According to Sen. Sgt Snashall, the gift cards were seen being used in the week leading up to Christmas, with people buying “copious amounts of alcohol”.
“I was present at Liquorland where I observed a male person pushing a trolley with eight cartons of beer to the counter with the $1500 gift card,” he said.
Sen. Sgt Snashall said on December 22, despite takeaway outlets only being permitted to open between 3pm and 7pm, 150 people were refused service by police and Liquorland staff under Section 115 of the Liquor Control Act. Another 182 people were refused service the following day.
Over those two days, there were 48 calls for police assistance and 11 calls for St John Ambulance, half that of the previous 48 hours.
“I don’t think it takes rocket science to ascertain what the problem is here,” Sen. Sgt Snashall said.
“No alcohol for one day resulted in no offences being reported.”
Sen. Sgt Snashall said he was “staggered that with all the public attention South Hedland had received during the past two months in relation to alcohol-fuelled violence” gift cards in such large denominations would be handed out.
“We had people driving from all over the Pilbara to load up on grog using these gift cards and I have no doubt that contributed to the high level of violence in the week leading up to Christmas,” he said.
WA Country Health Service Pilbara regional director Ron Wynn said the Hedland Health Campus emergency department experienced an influx of patients on the night of December 21.
“Four-hundred-and-fifty people attended the emergency department in the week before Christmas, an increase of 10.2 per cent on the same period last year,” he said.
Mr Wynn said when takeaway alcohol restrictions were placed on the town “there are fewer people presenting to the Hedland Health Campus emergency department”.
A Coles spokeswoman said the South Hedland Coles and Liquorland branches took responsible service of alcohol seriously and endeavoured to work with the Port Hedland Liquor Accord.
“In South Hedland, Coles and Liquorland will continue to work co-operatively with police, the licensing regulator and the local community to assess measures to ensure we are properly addressing community concerns in relation to the service of alcohol,” she said.
“In addition to complying with all legal requirements on the sale of alcohol, Liquorland South Hedland has a number of additional measures in place to address community concerns.”
Mr Blanco has promised to “up the ante” on solving alcohol-related issues and antisocial behaviour in South Hedland.
“Our community, Port Hedland, has had enough,” he said.
“If we have to put up with this ... week after week, the country will have to see the footage as well.
“I am pressuring the police to apply Liquor Control Act section 64 ... there’s a lot of talk about restrictions but no action.”
Section 64 allows licensing officials to impose extra conditions on the sale of alcohol.
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