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Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Restaurants hit 600 times in one year

by Borrie La Grange - The Times, 08 Jul 2008

The murder of a restaurant patron has drawn attention to a growing crime trend — armed robberies at restaurants.

A family outing to a restaurant ended in tragedy when a gang of robbers gunned down a young father-to-be at the Lion Park, north of Johannesburg, on Sunday afternoon.

Kurt Huppe, 27, was shot in the chest when he happened on the fleeing gang, which had just held up about 50 customers.

Huppe was shot as he was returning to the restaurant’s dining area after visiting the toilets.

His pregnant fiancee, Stacey Woolley, and her daughter, Tyla, were waiting for him with Woolley’s mother, Francis.

Minutes before, the gang had ordered customers in the restaurant to lie down while they took their handbags, cellphones and wallets and looted the cash registers.

The incident was the latest in a spate of restaurant robberies that has forced an industry body to classify some Gauteng areas as high risk .

In the 2007-2008 financial year, restaurants reported 600 incidents (300 robberies plus theft and fraud) to the Restaurant Association of SA.

The association has 3 000 members in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. This means that about 20percent of the association’s members were hit by criminals.

Wendy Alberts, chief executive of the association, said: “The situation is getting worse. We have had up to five robberies reported in a week.”

Restaurants and take-away outlets were still “soft targets” for armed gangs, despite the sophisticated security measures some members of the association had put in place, Alberts said.

Last year, Durban builder Marc Joubert was gunned down at the popular St Tropez restaurant when a robbery turned a birthday party into a nightmare. Three other patrons were also injured during the robbery.


The gang robbed patrons of cash and jewellery before firing their weapons randomly in the restaurant.

Alberts said the latest reports from members of the association suggest that gangs usually strike on Sunday afternoons or evenings, knowing that by doing so they will get to the cash before the weekend’s takings have been banked.

Alberts said a recent spate of robberies at restaurants in Pretoria and in the Kempton Park area, on the East Rand, had forced the association to classify them as “caution areas”.

A take-away restaurant in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs has been targeted almost every Sunday, presumably by “the same gang, week after week”.

Police statistics released last week indicated a massive 47.4percent surge in business robberies — from 6689 to 9862 cases — for the 2007-2008 financial year.

This includes restaurant robberies.

Yesterday, Kurt’s father, Dieter Huppe, said his son and Woolley were expecting their first child in December and were “settling down and planning a family”.

They had been “inseparable” for the five years of their relationship, he said.

“He was like a father to Tyla; they were very close.

“She knows that something is wrong and is asking Stacey questions,” Huppe said. He said he had spoken to his son while he was on the way to the Lion Park.

“He sounded happy. It was a total shock when two hours later I got the call that he had been shot.

“It is as though there is no respite from the violence.

‘‘It’s like this violence is becoming more frequent,” he said.

Police spokesman Inspector Odette van Staden said detectives were hunting the eight-man gang responsible for Huppe’s murder.

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